Thursday, March 13, 2014

Playground Review: John D. Morgan Park (Campbell)

John D. Morgan is another park that I've visited many times, but never reviewed. We visited again this morning and I was sure to snap pictures/take notes so that I could come back home and type this up for you.

For those who haven't been, John D. Morgan is a huge park with two distinct playground areas which are .4 miles apart down a paved path (yep, I walked it with a GPS). Each playground has its unique attributes, and I would guess that on most trips to the park, you'd only visit one or the other, so it's worth knowing what's there to decide which would work best for your family.

I'll review the park as a whole, then the two playgrounds, which I refer to by the names of the roads you use to access them -- Rincon Avenue and Budd Avenue (both intersect with Winchester).

The Park as a Whole

  • A huge park that offers everything a city park could offer -- big, grassy fields; picnic benches, tables and bbqs; relatively clean bathrooms (with changing tables -- a rarity in park bathrooms); vending machines; good parking; and two playgrounds with water features.
  • The park's grounds are well-maintained and clean, with lush, green grass for toddler romping.
  • There are tons of trees in the park, including some beautiful tall pines, so shade is abundant for picnics and grass play (though, as I'll note below, there's no shade on the Rincon playground).
  • While the playgrounds are bustling almost all of the time and feel very safe, there are parts of the park -- namely, the back parking lot on the Rincon side, up against the San Tomas Expressway sound wall, and the path between the two playgrounds -- that are almost empty on weekday mornings, except for the somewhat sketchy people parked and sitting in their cars, or just loitering on benches or lawns watching those who walk by on the path. If you're alone with your toddler, it's probably best to just pick one playground or the other, park nearby and stay put.
  • Ironically, the opposite of isolation holds true on weekends or in the evenings when sports are underway -- the place can get packed. There are a couple of baseball diamonds (including one big, fenced one with bleachers) and soccer and other activities take place on the fields. There are bbq-ers and picnic-ers galore. If you're looking for a peaceful weekend escape, this may not be the spot.

Rincon Avenue Playground

  • The Rincon playground offers a play structure, a spiderweb-like rope climbing structure, and a fantastic sand and water play area, as well as ample picnic tables/bbq sites, and convenient bathrooms.
  • The play structure is medium to large in size, very nice and modern, with two slides, a fun bridge and a couple of additional features. There are some ground level panels with holes that very young kids might enjoy crawling through.
  • The water and sand are the big selling points for this playground. The main water feature is a four prong spiral of sorts, where water sprays down and out from overhead while kids run about in delight. The ground surface is the squishy stuff, surrounded by an outer circle of concrete and a low concrete wall around the perimeter, which is nicely decorated with fish-themed ceramic tiles. I've sat on the wall and watched Toddler X romp in the water many times, and it makes for a fun day. Note: this feature was not operational when we visited today (a Thursday in March), and I'm not sure what the city's plans are in terms of turning it on.
  • The other substantial water feature is a spigot attached to a concrete river bed/waterfall of sorts, where water trickles downward to reach the main sand area at the bottom, creating a murky, mucky bog that kids LOVE. Today, some children had dug out a moat with an island at the center, and everyone was having a blast. The spigot at the top offers lots of opportunity for lessons on taking turns and exhibiting patience. It's great if you remember to bring your own sand toys, but if you forget, everyone seems willing to share. 
  • The sand play area is huge, and in addition to the waterfall feature, it includes two little wooden houses with benches and "sinks" inside (meant as sand funnels, the often get filled with water -- more murky, mucky bogs), one more water spigot (which appears to be capped off), and a wooden teeter-totter/spring toy.
  • The playground and sand area are almost always bustling, but the crowd is friendly and the area is spacious enough that it doesn't feel congested.
  • There are plenty of benches and walls for parents to sit on while their children play.
  • There is a parking lot immediately next to the playground (turn in right before it) that is very convenient, as well as street parking on Rincon. (There is another parking area at the end of Rincon, abutting the San Tomas sound wall, but it's farther from the playground, and this is the one where I mentioned there were lots of people just sitting in parked cars/campers. Try the other lot or the on-street parking first.)
  • Playground is not fenced.
  • No swings.
  • No shade on playground (though there is plenty on the surrounding grassy areas).
  • The play structure is not particularly toddler-friendly, at least for younger toddlers. There are three chest high potential drop off points (one of which doesn't even really add to the design of the structure, in my opinion). There is no separate structure for younger and older children, so your 18 month old could be playing on here with 7 year olds -- not an ideal situation.
  • The ground surface under the play structure is tanbark.

Budd Avenue Playground

  • Huge trees, lots of shade, and a cute treehouse/clubhouse theme throughout the playground.
  • Four baby swings, four big kid swings.
  • Toddler area -- separated from big kid area by a short distance, a ramp and some benches -- offers a cute, very toddler-friendly play structure with a clubhouse theme, a short climbing wall, one slide and a few features. There are no real plummet points, with the only potential drop at all being the waist-high, inclined climbing wall, which is out of the way and of little concern -- everything else is very well-enclosed. Ground surface is squishy stuff and sand.
  • Toddler area also offers a water spigot feature with a cute design, which again merges with the sand below to create a bog of toddler delight, and a 4 person spring teeter-totter that the kids were loving.
  • Toddler X's favorite part may have been the wooden(ish) ramps/steps/platforms/fort structure built around the pine trees at the center of the playground. He burned off a LOT of energy running up one ramp and down the other.
  • The big kid area's play structure (a 20+ foot high treehouse with huge tunnel slides and lots of neat features) is very cool to look at, but not at all toddler-friendly for the reasons listed below. However, underneath the structure are a series of little "rooms" with fun spinning features that Toddler X enjoyed.
  • Convenient parking available in lot/on street, and bathrooms and vending machines are right next to the playground.
  • Lots of places for parents to sit and watch their kids play, as well as a bbq/picnic area right next to the toddler playground.
  • The big kid play structure, awesome as it may be, forms an attractive nuisance for toddlers. If your toddler is at all adventurous, he or she will want to climb on the big structure rather than the little one, and it simply wasn't built with toddler safety in mind. Of particular concern are two sheer drops over the climbing wall, where the openings from the platform above are situated right at a corner of the structure. Toddler X (like many toddlers) tends to take corners wide when excited/running, and almost flew off of this opening. Also, to get from the middle level of the structure to the top (where the slides start) requires a good degree of climbing coordination, which many toddlers won't have. See pictures below for some of the not-so-toddler-friendly features.
  • All of the above issues with the big kid structure were noted when we were there mid-morning on a week day, with no school-age kids on the structure. I imagine the situation would be far more dicey in evenings/on weekends when there are elementary kids climbing up and running around. I know the slides look cool, but I really recommend keeping your toddler off this one.
  • Following up on the last point, a mom I met at the playground, who frequents the park and has kids ranging from 2-10, said that even the toddler area can be filled with rambunctious older kids in the afternoon/weekend hours. Just be aware.
  • There is tanbark under the big kid structure, and I hate tanbark.
  • Not fenced.
So overall, John D. Morgan is a wonderful park with something to offer anyone. I would choose the Rincon Side for water and sand play, and the Budd side for shade, swings and a toddler structure, and the park as a whole for a bbq, picnic, or play time with balls or bubbles. Whatever the reason for your visit, bring sand toys and alternate clothes (your toddler WILL get wet), and be aware that crowds can be an issue on weekends.

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