Thursday, March 6, 2014

Playground Review: River Glen Park (San Jose/Willow Glen)

I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to write a review of a park we like so much! River Glen Park, at the corner of Bird and Pine in Willow Glen, has a lot to offer families with both toddlers and older children, from a fenced-in toddler play area with a great structure and swings, to a fun, partially enclosed sand area, to a fantastic big kid structure for kids who have graduated from the toddler zone. There are some drawbacks, but the pros outweigh the cons at this nice local park.

  • Three separate play areas: a great fully-fenced toddler section (with a gate that latches closed), a partially-fenced sand play area, and a large, very cool "big kid" play structure, all set within a big park complete with playing fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and more.
  • The nice, modern toddler play structure is about chest-high, with only one potential fall area -- otherwise it's pretty well-enclosed up top. It has three slides, including our absolute favorite, a roller slide. In overall size, I'd say it's about mid-range -- larger than the small structures at Lincoln Glen or War Memorial, smaller than the big structures at Alvarez, Hogue and Newhall -- but it has ample features to occupy a toddler.
  • Toddler area also includes a fun spring ride and a whopping FOUR toddler swings, and although they're close in distance to the play structure, they're sort of out of the way, such that I've never seen a near run-in as I have at other parks.
  • A good amount of shade over the toddler area at most points in the day.
  • Large sand area is half fenced (with a latching gate) and half enclosed by a low concrete wall/bench, which won't keep toddlers in, but at least will slow them down a bit if they attempt to escape. Sand area features a multi-level table with holes and funnels, as well as a "clubhouse" with a table and benches.
  • The big kid play structure is very cool and pretty unique in its design. The widespread structure features a tube tunnel, four slides, and a central "island" of sorts, with bridges fanning out in all directions. There are several fun climbing/play features that you don't see at every park. The big kid area also features a tire swing and four regular swings, with benches around the perimeter.
  • Convenient bathrooms.
  • Ample picnic and BBQ areas very close to playground, some shaded and some not.
  • A great 1/2 mile packed dirt track circles the park, perfect for a jog or walk before or after playground time.
  • On-street parking is available on the streets surrounding the park. I've never had a problem parking on Pine right near the playground entrance, but I've also never been on a weekend/in the evening when the fields are filled with soccer or baseball practices and games.
  • People treat River Glen as a de facto dog park, and off leash dogs are rampant, including on the field close to the playground. While I'm a dog lover (we have two), I also believe in following rules that were created for the safety and comfort of all, especially children, and especially near playgrounds. Having dogs running loose prevents kids from frolicking in the grass near the playground, which really irks me.
  • The ground surface in the play areas is tanbark, and you know how I feel about tanbark.
  • The sand play area can get kind of rubbish-y.
  • The big kid structure has no shade.
  • The big kid section is kind of an attractive nuisance if you have a toddler who is an adventurer but not quite sophisticated enough for a more difficult structure. The layout makes it tough for a parent on the ground to get from one side of the structure to the other quickly to prevent injury, and the bouncy bridges could be a hazard for an unsteady toddler if an older child runs through. It's such a great structure that any toddler would want to play on it, but it is definitely not designed with toddler safety in mind. If you do bring your toddler over, be sure to supervise closely (and I wouldn't recommend going outside of school hours, when big kids will be all over it -- and rightfully so).
  • It's awkward to say this, but another con has to do with the clientele of the park. More than most other parks I've been to, there often seem to be individuals just sort of "hanging around" here on benches and tables, as well as a few homeless people who appear to live at the park. The last two times I've been here, I've seen police cars slowly cruising the perimeter, which I guess should make me feel safer, but kind of doesn't. I've never had any problems here and this isn't enough to deter me from visiting this great park, but I probably wouldn't go alone in the evening hours.
  • Finally, the park could get very crowded on weekends when sports are in season.
Overall, I think River Glen is definitely worth a visit for its great, fenced, shady toddler section, its roller slide, and a generally pleasant sand area with good seating options for parents. If you have an older child, the "big kid" play structure is fantastic too.

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