Space-age playgrounds

Witness the awesome spectacle of the mile-high Spacenet! The X-Wave climber! The Super Nova!

Six playgrounds across Snohomish County boast new space-age equipment designed to prevent today’s kids from becoming couch potatoes.

It’s easy to see this isn’t your parents’ playground.

Dwarfed by the Spacenet – actually 24 feet tall – at Kayak Point Regional Park, Todd Cochrane said he was amazed by the engineering that goes into the new toys.

“When we were kids, all that was there (at parks) was a teeter-totter, a slide, swings and bunnies on a spring,” said Cochrane of Seattle, who was camping at Kayak Point Park.

“That’s way cooler than a bunny on a spring,” he said, pointing at the Spacenet, a pole surrounded by a web of linked ropes.

The equipment isn’t for the faint of heart, said Cochrane’s wife, Lisa.

“I made it about halfway and said ‘no way,’ ” she said. “I like it, but it scares me.”

The Cochrane kids were among the swarm scaling the Spacenet, which could qualify as training for Cirque du Soleil.

“This is the sixth time I’ve been up here,” proclaimed Avery Cochrane, 6, of Seattle.

A county parks sign says “Please play safely” on the toys, which are meant for kids 5 to 12 years old. It also warns that parents should supervise their children.

The equipment is certified as safe and is inspected regularly, said county parks director Tom Teigen.

“It’s a lot safer than it probably looks to an adult,” Teigen said.

In recent months, Snohomish County has installed more than $600,000 worth of state-of-the-art equipment at six playgrounds.

It’s an unprecedented level of investment in equipment in a short time, officials said.

“This is a big deal for the parks system,” Teigen said.

The county borrowed money for parks projects last year. Officials calculated that it was cheaper to borrow money than wait and pay higher construction costs several years from now.

The new equipment brings a dose of adventure to some parks, or updates other staler playgrounds.

“Slides are becoming the least attractive of all the elements,” Teigen said. Cable-webbing climbing toys are all the rage for kids, Teigen said.

“They’re reaching, stretching, climbing, pulling, using their large muscles,” he said. “Everything gets a workout.”

The new generation of toys keeps the kids entertained, said Erica Matthews of Bothell.

“They don’t realize they’re exercising,” she said. “The stuff I grew up on pales in comparison to what the kids have now.”

The Spacenet especially. “It’s awesome,” Matthews said.

The days of the gigantic dangerous steel slide are long gone. Same goes for the old tires bolted to wooden pilings.

The old steel slides were great – unless they were pointing south and became the playground frying pan, said Bob McGarvey, president of Northwest Playground Equipment Inc. in Issaquah.

In the past two decades, most playground equipment has become obsolete. Playground equipment became more sophisticated and the subject of professional study.

“Now we’re into different motion-type activity,” said McGarvey, whose firm built the county playgrounds. “We’re always looking for activities where kids will use their upper bodies.”

A call for better exercise also has changed playground design at elementary schools, McGarvey said. Kids run along paths and platforms to reach equipment, not realizing they’re getting a workout.

Playgrounds are also a place to teach kids, Teigen said.

“These are places where we learn to socialize, and our large and fine motor skills develop,” Teigen said. “Places we walk to, we ride to. Playgrounds reconnect families, friends and neighbors.”

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