, Gloucester, MA

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May 28, 2007

Best parks combine fun, activities, learning

Looking for the best spots on Cape Ann to take your children for a pleasant day of playing outdoors?

The Times has visited all the parks and playgrounds on Cape Ann to rate them for safety, location, cleanliness and of course, the fun factor.

Here are the top playgrounds on the Cape:

Stage Fort Park

Gloucester's newly rehabilitated playground at Stage Fort Park takes top honors on Cape Ann. Freshly landscaped and paved paths lead to new equipment next to the visitors' center. Its top attraction is a new piece in the center of the play area with monkey bars, a slide and new swings.

The project, which cost $170,000 and was just completed by the Gloucester Rotary Club, also upgraded the paths to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act and installed new benches and picnic tables. One of the most unique things about this playground, aside from the views of Gloucester Harbor, is a small rock-climbing wall for young children.

"I've been coming here for a couple of years and have seen it steadily improve. It's a great option. You have the beach and the park," said Zemanay Auditore, mother of twin 3-year-olds, Dagne and Gregorio, on Thursday. The twins enjoy playing on the wooden ship in the playground.

Samantha Morris, 5, of Gloucester, liked to swing across the monkey bars. She was visiting the park with her mother, Keri, and her mother's boyfriend, Greg Perry, on Thursday morning.

"We live right down around the corner and Samantha likes all the different activities. It's pretty clean and has a great view plus there is ice cream down the street," said Morris.

West Parish Elementary School

Gloucester's science park at West Parish Elementary School combines play with learning.

In 2003, after much effort, a group of parents and teachers erected a playground that teaches children many aspects of science.

Many parents comment that this wooden playground attracts a broader range of ages than most. Young children as well as teenagers find something to interest them.

"The children are playing with science and as they are playing, they are learning," said Amy Ballin, a parent in the group that spearheaded the creation of the park. "Playing and education are intertwined at the playground."

The park is set in a wooded area with plenty of shade and picnic tables nearby. Adjacent to the playground are trails for short walks into the woods.

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