When it comes to sunny day activities, a playground trip tops the list. Essex County kids now have two new great options, thanks to the recently renovated playgrounds in Verona Park in Verona and Grover Cleveland Park in Caldwell.
The popular play areas were sorely missed during construction. The May 25 opening in Caldwell and May 30 ribbon-cutting in Verona were much anticipated, and the initial crowds proved it. As local officials presented their speeches in Verona, little kids whizzed through the crowd and screamed with excitement in the background.
The after-school crowd was pretty excited about the new disc swing.
“There are already hundreds of kids here, and it’s not even officially open,” Verona Mayor Kevin Ryan said at the 2pm opening ceremony.
After school let out at 3pm, the park was flooded with kids of all ages—from tiny tots to high-schoolers.
Doreen Mahon of Verona was in attendance with her children Kaitlin, 6, and Ryan, 4.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s very safe and clean. And I love how it’s closed-in now.”
Mahon compared the new design to the open access kids had to the creek and woods from the former playground. Though kids enjoyed exploring the “wild,” many parents found the layout unsafe.
The wooded area is now fenced off, and the adjacent land will be left as open space. According to county officials, enclosing the play area with a fence is a standard design in all county playgrounds, as it prevents children from running off.
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Cool hillside climbing equipment offers challenges for kids big and small.
But with all the new equipment, kids’ minds are bound to remain on the playground, not the woods. There are plenty of swings, including two oversized disc swings, an adaptive swing seat, and baby swings; a modern-day merry-go-round and seesaw; hillside climbing and sliding structures; stacked climbing shapes; a sky-high tower with a variety of slides, monkey bars, and a wiggly bridge; and little-kid jungle gym. Shaded seating, a mister, and water fountain will keep visitors cool on warm days. A new rubberized surface provides padding for falls.
The disc swing is a favorite among playground visitors.
Preschool pals Stella Blue Kirby, 4, and Devyn Benevides, 5, had fun testing out the new disc swing together.
“I like this the best,” Benevides said.
“My favorite is the big slide,” Kirby said.
This long, steep slide is a highlight of the new playground.
The steep slide on the towering green play structure seemed to be a favorite of many kids.
As the afternoon sun baked the metal slides built into the west-facing hillside, parents were concerned about their kids getting scorched. And so was Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo.
“There will be a shade curtain over the slides,” he said. “It’s being designed right now.”
He called for a sign to be posted in the interim, warning kids about the potentially hot slides.
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Caldwell's newly revamped playground in Grover Cleveland Park offers woodsy charm.
If families are looking for a shadier option in the meantime, Grover Cleveland Park in Caldwell is equally inviting. Its recent re-opening includes three new play structures for kids of varying sizes; a standing zip-line; bongos to bang; a variety of swings, including a disc swing and two tandem swings; a swaying step bridge; and metal-and-rope climbing structures amid the lush landscape.
Outside the gated area, a proper staircase up to Brookside Avenue has also been built—a welcome addition to avoid slipping on leaves and rocks while ascending the steep incline.
“It’s picturesque,” said Verona resident Daniel Garnet, who tested out the playground with his wife, Laura, and youngest of four kids, Zach, 16 months. “It’s nice that it’s shaded, with all the trees. And the creek is there.”
Grown-ups can get in on the fun on the new tandem swings. Photo by Daniel Garnet
He added that he appreciated the “mother-daughter” swings, where a child can face an adult while swinging together, and wished they had had them for his older three children.
Back at Verona Park, Sean Kirby, Stella Blue’s dad, pushed his daughter on the swing while enjoying a picture-perfect spring day.
“I really gotta thank Joe [DiVincenzo] for all these parks,” he said.
Families will be happy to know the county isn’t done with its upgrades just yet.
“We have redone 16 playgrounds in three years,” DiVincenzo said. “It’s important that we do this. Yanticaw in Nutley is next.”
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted