By Akemi Bourgeois
Dennis the Menace park in Monterey is one of our favorite parks. My boys first visited before they could even walk. I visited a few times when I was a kid. I remember the slides and the rickety suspension bridge. I remember driving by that park on many a road trip to Monterey with my parents, and spotting the playground's curves and linear lines jutting into the skyline, like a mini faux Gaudi.
At first it was difficult to watch my kids there because as soon as I would catch up with them, they would zip over another obstacle, or down another slide or through the bushy maze, away from me. I could never catch up. Eventually, I realized it was far easier to stay in one place and watch the boys from afar.
This park is everything other parks are not, and that is, it has an element of danger. It's one of the few parks that has not been completely encased in molded plastic. It's not same old, same old here. It's good, old-fashioned fun. I've always been eager to go beyond the plastic slide.
But oh, the train. How it beckons. The steam engine train is the first thing visitors see when they enter Dennis the Menace Park. When my boys were younger, we'd shadow our boys, watching their every move, and spotting them like weightlifters as they scrambled about the train, eventually emerging at the tip top, a childhood feat on par with summiting Mt. Everest.
My boys could spend forever and a day on that train.
Sure, there are trains in other playgrounds, like the short wooden pretend one at Oakmeadow Park in Los Gatos, but kids know the difference between real and fake. Ask any kid which they prefer and they'll tell you, they want the real deal.
But the real deal, the steam engine train that seems dangerous and in fact, is dangerous, hasn't been open in years. Every time we've gone, the kids dash over the train, only to discover the whole thing fenced off.
The city of Monterey has been forced to close the train because it's not up to playground safety code. Of course it's not.
Can't we sign a waiver? (I know, it's far more complex an issue than that.)
We almost want to leave, our hopes dashed. The kids mope a while and then they're off exploring the rest of this fabulous old-style park, but what they want to do most of all is to climb to the roof of the steam engine train.
There is a Save the Train Facebook page dedicated to saving Monterey's much loved train at Dennis the Menace park. Won't you join?
I am so very grateful that my boys had the experience of climbing this train. They have explored it countless times. Was I nervous? Yes, more so than ever before. Did I shout things like, "Hold on!" and "Watch where you're going!" Of course.
The steam engine train is dangerous, yes. It's the reason they don't open the rootops of abandoned buildings and invite kids to dabble in a little par cours. But there has to be a way to let kids be kids, to let them learn to play safely on their own, without being surrounded by boring molded plastic and soft flooring. Our budget strapped cities need more parks where kids can really play on unique play structures.
We will mourn if the steam engine at Dennis the Menace Park is closed off forever. So today, I join Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids in hoping that the steam engine remains open for exuberant young climbers to come. Read the Free Range Kids post Are Today’s Kids So Much More Delicate? Save the Dennis the Menace Train! and join the fight to keep this train open.
Hat tip to Nicole Pelton of Not Just a Working Mom
for pointing me to the article.
This is an original post to Chalk and Cheese Chronicles.