I used to paint the bottoms of my feet blue. Sky blue. Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, I had an early tradition of drying my hair the natural way: soaring through the hot-breathed night with my hair trailing behind my swing. So high did my feet arc skyward that my soles dusted blue.
Jump forward a few years, and you will find me on a different swing set in a more humid twilight, longer legs, slimmer feet, but with still the same determined energy to wring every ounce of centrifugal force out of my swing. My sisters and I, along with good friends visiting us from Arizona to experience the Pennsylvania swings, invented elaborate rules for Swing Olympics, dazzling our semi-bored parental audience with (we felt) truly impressive height and dismounts coupled with twists, spins, and leaps. The long blond hair on our four heads whipped first behind and then ahead with every pump and pull.
In the intervening years between the glory days of Swing Olympics and my more staid adult lifestyle, I had forgotten the joys of blue-soled feet. With the arrival of spring this year, however, I have been reminded of the delights of swinging. My daughter and I are endeavoring to visit a variety of playgrounds in the Pittsburgh area to review the most convenient, most lauded, and most undiscovered playspaces of the outdoors.
Our first stop fits in all three categories: convenient, lauded, and undiscovered (at least it’s new to us). Blueberry Hill Park in Franklin Park. I first heard of Blueberry Hill as a recommendation from another new mom who seemed astonished that I hadn’t heard of this gem of a playground. “Really?” her eyebrows seemed to ask more loudly than her words. “You’ve never been there? It’s great!” When I get that kind of a reaction along with a recommendation, first I feel sheepish, then I feel like the girl who got asked to the prom at the last minute because everyone else said no. Imagine my delight when I finally Google Mapped the park only to discover that it’s a mere 4.3 miles from my house. Go figure. Convenient? Check. Lauded? Check. Undiscovered (by me)? Check.
Of special note in this 87-acre park is the adorably-named Blueberry Patch, a playground designed for toddler to elementary-aged kids. Parking just outside the Blueberry Patch, my mommy safety radar immediately gave the playground points for being fenced with weathered pickets all the way around the impressively large yard. Next, I noticed three different sets of swings, of vital importance to my toddler who forgoes all other joys in life to be slung like a sack of flour in a black bucket seat. A human pendulum, she swings and swings and swings. And hums. Usually clutching a bedraggled dandelion in a fist.
The Blueberry Patch is not the newest or squeakiest-clean playground we’ve visited. Some of the play equipment is constructed of graying pressure-treated lumber, which would prompt my husband to worry about poisonous splinters. But what the park may lack in panache, a sweet sense of comfort pervades. It’s well-loved and well-used. It’s my twelve-year-old pair of patched Levis versus my brand new skinny jeans. Sure, it may be carpeted with mulch instead of the more current kiddie-turf of other playgrounds, but my daughter certainly had more fun sifting through the mulch than she’s ever had picking at the rubbery sponge floors.
A unique highlight of the playground holds center court, housed under a protective roof, golden treasure spilling beyond its walls: the hugest sandbox I’ve ever seen outside of the beach. Sandbox toys (dump trucks, buckets, rakes, tool tables) outnumbered the kids. Moms and grandmas held court on benches around the perimeter of the box while kids cavorted up, down, in, and out of the overflowing sand. Crumpled juice boxes and string-cheese wrappers lay unattended where the distracted owners discarded them in haste to return to sand play. As great a love for swings as I have, I must admit this particular sandbox stole a piece of my heart.
I love how playgrounds invite young people (and sometimes slightly older people) to give our hands and bottoms something to do instead of always letting our feet have the fun. I watched kids slide, dangle, climb, and swing to their hearts’ content as parental voices warned, “We’re leaving in five minutes.” In the late afternoon sun of a mild spring day with the distant echo of traffic on 79 North and the encouraging yelps of a middle school track coach drifting our way on the breeze, I was glad for the kids when five minutes stretched into ten.
The Blueberry Patch at Blueberry Hill Park in Franklin Park offers activities for kids of any age. For toddlers with moms who don’t mind contorting their bodies through tunnels or squeaking down slides, this playground is fairly toddler-friendly. The sandbox feature alone makes it worth a visit.
Blueberry Hill Park is located on Nicholson Road near the intersection of Rochester Road. For a thorough and helpful registry of local parks, be sure to visit the blog PittsburghMom. To keep little hands clean after adventures with dandelions, swings, and sand, check out my favorite all-natural hand sanitizer, Clean Well.