Slide into Summer
Our WNY playground picks
The playground at Stiglmeier Park
Photo by Anthony Chabala
Today’s playgrounds are unrecognizable compared to those of yesteryear. What began as a simple sand garden where children played has evolved into expensive and elaborate feats of creative architecture.
The first recognizable playground appeared in Manchester, England, in 1859. When applied to today’s standards, the original playgrounds look more like torture devices than a safe place for children, but aesthetics and fun were not necessarily the central aim. Teaching both fairness and safety were the playground designers’ primary concerns. There were not many ladders to climb, so the children had to exercise patience and order and stay in line. The ladder led to a long, flat plank (not a slide like nowadays), where users had to be extraordinarily careful, or they would get injured (prime example of the phrase “natural consequence”).
Fast forward almost 150 years. Today, playgrounds are seen as tools to escape rules and order, not learn them. However, within the seeming chaos of a playground, the skills of empathy, patience, and persistence can be fostered. But for the great Theodore Roosevelt and his dedication to getting children outdoors and funding parks and public places, playgrounds as we know them might never have been. Luckily, Western New York has incredible playgrounds where not only are children entertained, there is something for the adults, too. Below is a list of what we consider to be among the best playgrounds in WNY for grandparents, parents, or childcare providers to take their youngsters.
Charles Burchfield Nature and Art Center
2001 Union Road, West Seneca
The Burchfield is undoubtedly the odds on favorite for a win-win with respect to all adults and children. The play area is large, simple, and safe. There are slides (both open and enclosed), ladders, viewing areas, plus all the playground essentials. However, the fact that Burchfield’s gorgeous art is tastefully placed throughout the area truly helps tie the entire park together. The large colored sticks beside the large, carved out cave-like structure are the most visually stimulating pieces in the area. When not on the playground, there are trails, built in art installations spread throughout the grounds, an amphitheater, tons of history, and plenty of shady benches when you feel ready to relax. One would be hard pressed to not enjoy his or her visit here.
1780 Como Park Blvd., Depew
Every once in a while a school playground simply gets it right. Cayuga Heights Elementary School in Depew did just that. Now, realize that one must wait until after school hours or weekends to visit a school playground, but this is worth the wait! Here, the playground offers a large volcano, pirate ship, and other attractions for your child to climb up and slide down. Seemingly, no expense was spared, and the money was spent wisely.
810 Losson Rd., Cheektowaga
According to one grandparent who preferred to go unnamed, “Stiglmeier Park is the best kept secret in the area. I joke with people that it’s the jewel of Cheektowaga!” Stiglmeier Park offers a luscious green space that is ripe for bird watching, animal sightings, and nature walks. The nature trails are simple and safe, and the park is known for its cleanliness. There are tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and plenty of space to sit and relax while the young ones play. The playground itself is more of a modern day obstacle course than your simple slides and swings, which makes it all the more exciting (imagine the characters of the old, hit show, American Gladiators, designing a playground). Plus, the children have access to music-making contraptions and can feel braille letters throughout the park. However, the highlight of the experience is strolling the boardwalk. Elevated where you need it, and flat where you want it, the boardwalk takes you to some of the most scenic parts of the park in a very safe and easy-to-maneuver manner.
Additional playgrounds that should be on your “Summer of 2018 Playground Tour” include:
121 Porter Ave., Buffalo
Here is perhaps the City of Buffalo’s greatest play area. A large wading pool, water squirting everywhere, imitation buffalo to climb, a great traditional playground, views of the Yacht Club, and plenty of rest areas and ice cream stands nearby.
Great Beahre Swamp
Town of Amherst Conservation Park
Located in the Town of Amherst, this Wildlife Management Area actually has a zip line! This makes up for the lack of a traditional playground. Plus, the paths, boardwalks, and trails are all very flat and easily accommodate strollers and wheel chairs. There is tons of wildlife to see, and the area can be enjoyed by anyone.
There you have it, a checklist of places you and your little ones must experience or rediscover this year. Plan ahead with sun screen, snacks, water and, as always, never pass up the opportunity to use a bathroom you pass by; when at a park, you never knows where the next one will be.
Anthony Chabala and Kevin Gibbons are family law attorneys in Buffalo, New York.