Adventure is out there
The Adventure Playground has been part of growing up in Irvine since 1977. Many who played in the park as children have vibrant memories of a fenced-in, yet untamed place, with DIY forts constructed by kids and parents with names like The Shack, the Pirate Ship, the Dragon’s Castle, the Tiki Hut, and the Sheriff’s Station. Kids could trade their quarters for snacks, and jump on a tree swing with a rope that appeared to be on the brink of snapping.
As one long-time Irvine resident recalls: “I can still see the dads walking in with their boys, a stack of wood beams on their shoulder, as they marched toward their designated fort plot. I can feel the weight of my buddies, pulling a group of us into the mud pit during a particularly rousing round of tug-of-war. I remember hearing stories of first kisses behind plywood walls, watching as an exposed nail tore a gash into my friend’s thigh, and feeling that exhausted sense of happiness that settled in after a day playing at the AP.”
The 1.7-acre Adventure Playground closed in 2008 during the rehabilitation of University Community Park. When it didn’t reopen at the same time that the larger park surrounding it did, friends and fans of the park began to worry. They organized, picketed and protested, learning a good deal about participatory democracy in the doing.
Architects and other experts made it clear that the existing playground and its structures suffered from a variety of woes: non-compliant construction, lack of ADA accessibility, erosion-caused sediment finding its way into Newport Harbor, structural deterioration and a variety of hazardous conditions. The place had seen better days, no doubt.
Over the next few years city officials and local residents planned and work-shopped ways to bring the Adventure Playground back to life. Through initial conflict, then thoughtful conciliation, compromise and ultimately consensus, they succeeded.
The new Adventure Playground debuted on December 12, 2015, and most agree it’s better than ever. “I remember a certain magic of the old park, but to me there was danger there, too,” says one Irvine mom. “The re-opening of AP is somehow perfect. Gone is the danger, but the magic is still there.”
Today it’s called “self-directed play,” that too-rare opportunity to run wild, without the structure of play dates and enrichment courses. That’s what parents and kids discover at the Adventure Playground.
On a recent weekday morning, moms were lounging on picnic blankets, nursing babies, observing, but not hovering, over their older children. Kids splashed dump trucks through the mud pit, happy and invigorated and filthy from head to toe. Huge Lego-like blocks have replaced the rickety wooden forts, but teams of kids still work together to build strong walls and hiding places. The water pump area is for rinsing off dirty feet, and also splashing siblings. Kids explore and yell and run until they can run no more.
There’s the security of knowing the area is enclosed, everyone signs in and there are two staff members present. But there’s also the freedom to have fun, with arts and crafts opportunities, a muddy pond to splash in, giant blocks to build with, slides to ride and walls to climb.
It’s an adventure, indeed.
The Adventure Playground is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday but holidays.
1 Beech Tree Lane