New park features water fun that's safe for all kids
By Anne Kenderdine
Friday, July 22, 2011
The new Our Special Harbor sprayground in Franconia hits that sweet spot for parents: Its size and variety will entertain kids for an hour, it has shaded seating areas, clean facilities and, best of all, it's free.
Just opened in May, the attraction at Lee District Park was designed to be accessible for children with special needs, with features such as wheelchairs that can get wet. But the sprayground appeals to all. The side opposite the entrance has low, gentle bubblers and two water-table play areas where kids can adjust a foam dam and feel the water as it tumbles from one level to another. Near the entrance, arched sprays echo the curves of a pink sea monster spouting more water.
The sprays are higher and stronger toward the center of the park, where buckets fill with water and unload their contents on bolder types below. Kids can pivot and aim four cannons that stream water constantly - a big hit with my 4-year-old. But darn it if my backside wasn't a frequent target as I bent down to steady my 14-month-old so she didn't get tackled by bigger, boisterous kids with better balance.
Signs warn that the painted surface of the sprayground is slippery, but the park has taken steps to reduce falls. A no-running rule is enforced by yellow-shirted attendants with whistles. The park closed briefly in June for a resurfacing, and everyone who steps onto the spray pad area must wear water shoes - ideally non-slip soled shoes that won't track in dirt. If all you have are your Crocs or Tevas, rinse them off first at the spray just outside the play area. The park also sells water shoes for kids and adults, beginning at toddler size 7, for $11 to $13.
"We are going to be very flexible," says Judy Pedersen, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Park Authority. "Our goal is not to turn people away."
It's easy to understand why safety is such a focus. The sprayground was created through a partnership with the nonprofit group Joey Pizzano Memorial Fund Inc., named after a developmentally delayed 6-year-old boy who drowned in the Potomac River. At the sprayground, parents find it much easier to keep an eye on their kids than at the pool. "Any place I can take twins and sit down for 10 minutes is amazing," says Mary Kay Folk of Alexandria, who brought her 2-year-olds.
The sprayground quickly hits its capacity of 247 soon after it opens each day, says John Berlin, program branch manager for the park authority, so there's frequently a line at the gate. A shaded picnic pavilion next to the park is popular for birthday parties (no food is allowed inside the sprayground), and across a field there's the "treehouse," a walkway and covered deck built on the edge of a steep slope, where you look out into tree branches.
"I call it baby Vegas," says Tynesia Boyea-Robinson of Alexandria. Son Dylan Robinson, 3, agrees. "I like the water park so much," he says. And the best thing about the sprayground?
He looks at me as if to say, you grown-ups don't understand anything. Then he answers: