Miles from home, a toddler refusing to eat an almond-butter apricot jam sandwich, my plate filled with kale-sprinkled salads (delicious in theory), mid-day sun grilling my shoulder through the plate glass window of Whole Foods. In this setting, we could have been just across town in East Liberty battling to find a spot in the Prius-clogged parking lot of Whole Foods. Instead, I was two hours from home in a suburb of Cleveland. All for the sake of the great playground hunt.
I stumbled across Preston’s HOPE when looking for kid-friendly attractions in the Cleveland area as an excuse to tag along on my husband’s recent business trip. The playground’s website alone seemed compelling enough to warrant the four-hour round trip drive, and as I came upon multiple reviews that sang the praises of the park, I opted for a playdate with Preston instead of the Cleveland zoo. Despite the fact that a 53-degree day with stinging wind threatened to veto any outdoor activity, I was not disappointed with my choice.
Preston’s HOPE (Helping Others Play and Enjoy) is a playground located east of Cleveland in the Beechwood suburb. At first glance, it may seem like just an above-average playground, but look closer and you’ll notice activity boards riddled with braille dots and pathways (even slides) wide enough to accomodate wheelchairs. Preston’s HOPE is a playground created for handicapped kids. All 60,000 square feet (amazingly, if I’m doing my math correctly, that’s 3,000 times bigger than my house) of the park can be explored by kids who may otherwise need help seeing, hearing or moving.
I let my daughter take the lead once we were in the gates of the park, and moving at a determined pace, arms thrown behind her, feet stomping on the turf, she trucked right past the train and headed to the promised land: the sandbox. It helped that seven or eight other kids were loudly advertising the fun to be had at this stop while moms stood on the perimeter and buried chapped hands deeper into spring jacket pockets. Oblivious to the biting chill in the air, the kids, ranging from two to five years, shoveled, patted, and sifted sand with the intensity of an accountant checking ledgers on April 14. This was serious business, as one precocious three-year old reminded me when my bumbling daughter bumbled a bit too close for comfort to his sand castle. I say sand castle, but really it was one bucket-full of sand dumped upside down. And one side had already crumbled. Pitiful enough to be stomped on by a toddler, if you ask me.
Hauling my bumbler away from the “hostile” sandbox crowd, we next explored the multi-level village of play houses (more cold wind and running kids), and quickly moved onto the swings. If you’ve followed my earlier post about our local Blueberry Hill playground, you can guess what percentage of my morning was spent in the swing vicinity. I used to be surprised when I found a new analysis of the meaning of the letter A on Hester Prynne’s bosom. Now I’m surprised when I find a new variety of swing. Preston’s HOPE surprised me. With four different swing sets ranging from classic bucket and slab seats to new-to-me varieties of plastic loungers and tire swings, I could understand visiting the playground just for the swing section.
The entire park is carpeted in a whimsical ocean-themed turf mosaic. Easy on little hands and knees that can’t always keep pace with exuberant hearts. Without a direct path through the various park activities, it was easy to follow the meandering fish and waves from slide to swing to see-saw. We ended our day exploring the grocery list of activities scattered throughout the park and best summarized in a review from About.com: “Other playground activities include Granny’s pavilion with chess boards, a learning clock, musical bars, ride-ons, rock walls, climbing towers, basketball nets, a ball wall, trapeze bars, monkey bars, sound tubes, swings, slides, balance beams, and lots more.”
“And lots more.” That phrase best encapsulates the experience at Preston’s HOPE. It has all the classic playground activities, and lots more. It has the playful vibe you expect at a neighborhood park, and lots more. It has activities of interest to all ages, and lots more. A new standard has been set in my expectations for a fantastic playground: Preston’s HOPE is the place to beat. My only complaint is that it’s not located in my back yard.
Preston’s HOPE is just a two-hour drive from downtown Pittsburgh. An easy day trip that could be coordinated with naps in the car. Pack a picnic lunch to eat at one of the many convenient tables scattered throughout the playground. May I recommend an almond-butter and apricot jam sandwich made with Maranatha Almond Butter?