I had heard rumors that the playground at Bowen Park in Waukegan was great, amazing even, but being about a 30-minute drive from my house, I always left it on my “one of these days” list. I finally decided that my kids and I needed a new adventure, so we set off on a cloudy day to find out just what all the hoopla was about. Once I pulled into the parking lot, I understood. The clouds parted, angels sang, my kids gasped, “Mama, is that the park?” Yes, kids, Bowen Park Playground is THE Park.
Bowen Park, Waukegan
When we exited the car, my children made a mad dash for the playground, which looms over you like a kiddie Shangri-La. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, the 40-foot tube slides that twist down the hillside from the Forest Outlook Tower or the giant Spider Climber. Whichever it was, they screamed to my kids to come and play!
I’ll admit the spider climber caused some palpitations, but you just can’t get over how cool it is. Had I possessed less restraint, I may have knocked a few kids out of the way to tackle it myself. Despite its imposing size, the designers thoughtfully included two safety nets inside the structure. Falling is less of a concern than a child who sets off with brave intentions that suddenly turn into shouts of “Mama, come get me!” once they realize how high they’ve climbed. Just make sure you’re in good enough shape to climb after them if the need arises. What adult couldn’t use the exercise anyway?
On a hot summer day, you’ll appreciate the large (and free) splash pad adjacent to the playground, which not only offers plenty of bench seating for parents but shade as well. Any parent who has baked in the hot sun on wet ground so their child can enjoy splashing will have a hard time going anywhere else.
But we’ve only covered this park’s lower level – Bowen Park is actually a multi-level playground built into a hillside.
Your kids will want to climb the hill to the upper level. It appears to be covered in mulch but is actually a poured-in-place rubberized surface. In this case, you’ll prefer the synthetic surface because it won’t erode beneath your child and will aid their grip as they climb. Log climbers on the hillside also encourage the climb up.
Caregivers may prefer to take the stairs, which is in no way less scenic. It’s not so many stairs as it is a “boardwalk system” with landings, overlooks, and seating shaded by mature trees and surrounded by native plants.
You will find a contraption reminiscent of a giant salad spinner at the top level of the playground. No plunger here – this spinner runs on kid power. The surrounding cargo net is fun to climb and keeps the kids contained against the powers of centrifugal force.
The playground’s upper level is also home to dish swings, conventional swings, the Owl Overlook platform giving panoramic views of the picnic area, and the entrance to the Forest Outlook Tower and slides. But what parents of toddlers will appreciate most is the Forest Meadow, aka Toddler Play Area.
With so much for big kids, Bowen Park hasn’t forgotten the needs of your little ones. The Forest Meadow provides a safe and decidedly more serene space for toddlers to explore and play. There are no dizzying heights to be found here; everything is low to the ground to discourage parental heart attacks. The surface is rubberized, too, so even new walkers’ frequent tumbles won’t worry you. While it’s set apart in such a way to discourage the tramplings of big kids, it still is close enough to the rest of the playground that they can see the rest of the action.
While there are so many big things to ooh and ahh over at Bowen Park, as a parent (read old person), I truly enjoyed the thoughtful touches that went into the park’s design. Instead of bulldozing the landscape, Waukegan Park District built the playground in harmony with the existing land features. The old-growth trees and hillside were preserved, making it feel like the playground is part of the landscape and not a foreign tangle of primary-colored plastic and metal that fell off the circus truck. All this communing with nature may inspire you to take advantage of the exercise trail with fitness stations that wind through the park.
So the moral of the story is… I think Bowen Park is pretty awesome. It’s just one of the reasons we have chosen it to launch the Little Lake County Playground Tour 2014 AND the Little Lake County Playground Tour 2015.
Amenities: Outlook tower with 4o ft. tube slides, Spider Climber, overlook platform, spinner, dish swings, splash pad, toddler play area, fitness/exercise trail, Log Climber, small amphitheatre, nearby picnic area
Shade: Full to moderate, many mature trees
Restrooms: Yes! Real toilets can be found right by the parking lot as well as the nearby Craft Cottage
Ground cover: Mixed – mostly wood chips with rubberized turf on hillside and toddler area
Good for: All ages. The toddler play area gives the little ones a quiet space to explore while older children will go wild over the tall play structures. Keep in mind the multiple levels and hillside construction of the playground do interfere with sightlines when trying keep track of multiple children at one time.
1800 North Sheridan Road, Waukegan