5 Park-tacular Chippewa Valley Playgrounds

play-friendly starter spots in the area to get your kids moving

Hope Greene, photos by Hope Greene, Leah Dunbar, Andrea Paulseth

Just as monkeys need bananas and something to climb on, human children need, well, bananas and something to climb on. Here are just five of the many great playground spots in and around Eau Claire. Use this guide as a treasure map that you can follow as a start to finding your own gems.

1. Robbins Elementary & Putnam Heights Elementary, Eau Claire: playtime megalopolis

These two school playgrounds have extensive and snazzy new equipment mixed in with some excellent oldies. Among its compelling contraptions, Robbins now has these modern wacky twisted fish-shaped needle-threading plastic climbers alongside a simple vintage geodesic dome, both equally as amusing to our young testers. (The geodesic dome probably more so simply for the physical comedy factor of me getting stuck inside it. I did not brave the fish needles.) Across town at Putnam Heights, the newest section of their huge playground is designed for kids with all kinds of mobilities and sensory differences, featuring, among other ingenious toys, a big blue sleigh-shaped see-saw spectacularly large enough to fit two wheelchairs, four kids on a sturdy bench, and at least a dozen more people if they cling to the outside (which it is designed for, so cling away, spider monkeys).

2. Rod and Gun Park, Eau Claire: tree-shaded tree hugging

If you’re nostalgic for the old-timey fun of sitting on a plank bridge poking at the sparkling water with a stick, making mud plumes and sending leaf boats floating away to glory or a watery grave, this is the one for you. A perfect kid-sized bubbling brook lined with smooth stones winds past the playground, the water is clear and just a few inches deep. Further along, the streams widen into larger and deeper water features inhabited by various interesting pond creatures. Tucked against a hill on one side and Half Moon Lake on the other, the playground area has very new woodland themed equipment, and there are restrooms if you follow the path into the larger park. Our testers left this playground wet from the ankles down, quibbling over who touched the best slimy thing, and trying to speak goose.

3. River Heights Elementary, Menomonie: it’s a castle

Yup. And what a castle – with sandboxes, Viking ship prow, short slides, wavy slides, spiral slides, swings, anthill climbing wall, handprint climbing wall, multilevel maze, ropes courses, balance beams, tots area, merry-go-round, jumpy bridge, monkey bars galore, and a painting of an erupting volcano on the side, as though it needed any extra mojo.

4. Irvine Park Fountain/Splash Pad, Chippewa Falls: throw in the towel

There is something about the act of splashing that activates a particular part of the child brain, the part that stores total insanity. You may have seen this happen at home in the bath where if not quickly checked, children turn to manic water-borne gibbons whipping up a tsunami of destructive glee. Chippewa Falls has provided a place where those lovely ones can vent all their shrieky splashy joy in safety and without your porous house surfaces soaking it up, leaving you on the bench to supervise their water play while still able to enjoy a vivacious discussion on Brangelina or Wittgenstein or whatever it is you like to talk to other parents about. The splash pad is only one of the interesting things at Irvine Park, which includes – among other things – several playgrounds and a small zoo.

5. Carson Park, Eau Claire: it may have a space portal

Carson Park, by all accounts, remains the queen of Eau Claire playgrounds. It’s shaded by the surrounding forest, massive in size, bescupltured by a bronze statue of motherhood, with interesting trails leading off into the trees, views of Half Moon Lake, restrooms, and is home to the famously long tube slides. Just how long are the famously long tube slides? Our careful measurement got us an answer of long enough to be pretty freaking exciting to someone three feet tall with half an imagination. These slides are the best “because it might take you to space or to a pink bunny’s house,” said our 3-year-old tester, and continued, “but sometimes it takes you to the slide bottom and then you go again.” The behemoths are newly safetyed up with fresh steps and split rail fences to squelch the urge to climb on the giant inviting rocks. But even tamed by prudent framing we agree they are definitely long enough to get you into space, or at least get you going fast enough to have a shot at it.