What kind of playground is this, anyway?

What kind of playground is this, anyway?

- in Parks, Gardens & Trails

Lake Metroparks Penitentiary Glen Nature Play Area  – Kirtland Ohio

Number of swings: 0.
Number of slides:0.
Monkeybars? Nope.

Wait, what kind of playground is this anyway? Well I’m glad you asked! It is – literally – like none I have ever seen. And after one visit, it has become my daughters’ favorite playground of all time. In the absence of shiny metal and hard plastic structures, you will find nature at its finest. That is, a very intricately planned, well executed and meticulously maintained version of nature- molded into a child’s dream play area. With what appears to be a couple of acres of space, there is no shortage of things to keep young minds and bodies active and engaged.  In 2 hours, we didn’t even get through the entire playground. There’s ample seating throughout, even picnic tables. Great place to bring a packed lunch. I found plenty of areas to relax in the shade, and I noticed a stroller-friendly walkway as well.

The entire playground is enclosed. The grassy, wide open spaces are inviting for running freely, along with large hills that hide a fun tunnel beneath. Strategically placed tree stumps of various sizes are available to hop and jump on. My daughter loved walking on the rocks in the small creek – and she didn’t even fall in! A large hut was set up for pretend play with all the fixings for little chefs to create a make-believe, primitive camping meal. (I was presented with a feast of “mickey mouse pancakes” made out of of sand, water and rocks)

There are basic resources for “building” including sticks, wood pieces, and rocks. Sounds simple, but it was surprising to see how much all of the kids enjoyed using their imaginations to create things! A real garden area has raised beds and child-sized tools encouraging kids to dig in and get to work. Tree stumps are fashioned into board games, with painted rocks as the playing pieces. Logs are used as the base for balance beams as well as play houses. Although this was about a 40 minute drive for us (we are West-siders) it was well worth it.  It was wonderful to watch so much discovering and learning. Everything was hands-on and set up to encourage pretend play and creativity.  I can’t speak of the other activities at the park aside from the playground (as there was no prying my daughter way from it!) but I understand they also have much more to offer that we are looking forward to exploring on our next trip –  walking trails, pavilions, a nature center, campgrounds and special events like steam engine rides. So stay tuned for part 2!

Verdict: very cool place! I can see natural playgrounds like this increasing in popularity in the coming years. I would love to have one on my side of town. Be prepared for your kids to get dirty! ( I actually had my daughter wear water shoes, and it worked out well.) The playground is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and admission is free.

About the author

Born and raised in Cleveland, Kristen spent many years exploring the “adult friendly” venues of this great city. Now, thanks to marriage and motherhood, she is enjoying discovering all of the kid-friendly activities that Northeast Ohio has to offer.

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