GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 28, 2007

Best parks combine fun, activities, learning

By Douglas A. Moser and Gail McCarthy , Staff writer

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.



Some of the main features of the playground include a large gravity boat and a sound and light fish structure, which is equipped with organ pipes and listening tubes.

"The features unique about this are the pulleys and gears and pneumatic lift that teach about simple machines and mechanical advantage," said Ballin.

The playground, which opened in 2003, also has a variety of other playground apparatus that dovetails with the larger pieces.

"The equipment is designed for teaching science concepts," explained Ballin. For instance, the swings are not all the same height. They are at different levels to teach about the physics of a pendulum. The spinners teach about centrifugal force.

"You see kids playing, but you see them experimenting and trying out science and that's what it's all about," said Ballin. "It's inquiry-based science and that was our mission."

Eagle's Nest Playground

Spirits soar at the Eagle's Nest playground at the Essex Elementary and Middle School yard.

The large wooden structures attract children and adults from near and far.

"It has stood the test of time," said Principal Eric Gordon. "It brings a multitude of generations from grandparents to daughters and sons and even aunts and uncles who bring their kids from out of town. We even have camps that come here in the summer for some play time. It gets used almost 24/7."

The playground has several structures where children can climb, as well as a maze of walkways. There is a jumping area, a boat that moves back and forth and slides.

There are tables for snacks and picnics, as well as a small pond nearby where children look for frogs.

The playground has been a magnet for the community. It has been maintained well with annual attention to the details, thanks, in part, to the continued efforts of science teacher Paul Pennoyer, who always looks after the equipment.

Rockport Elementary School

Rockport Elementary School has a large play area with spots for various activities.

About five years ago, a new elementary school playground was installed with a variety of metal structures, as well as a small climbing wall and many swings.

Some of the older children enjoy using the basketball court and the wall ball area, which is next to the tennis courts.



The new playground also includes a fenced area for preschoolers, giving the youngest children playground equipment suited for their size, plus the fence for extra supervision.

Three-year-old Molly Ambrose said she particularly enjoys the large swing set, which also gives her a vantage point to watch her older sister, eighth-grader Nicki Ambrose, who plays softball on the adjacent field.

How they rate

Stage Fort Park - fun, 5; cleanliness, 5; location, 5; safety, 5; overall, 5

West Parish - fun, 5; cleanliness, 5; location, 5; safety, 5; overall, 5

Eagle's Nest Playground - fun, 5; cleanliness, 5; location, 4; safety, 5; overall, 4.75

Rockport Elementary School. - fun, 3.5; cleanliness, 4; location, 4.5; safety, 4; overall, 4