Park of the Week: Balto Seppala Park
Balto Seppala Park is more than just a park, it’s a destination that’s worth going a tad bit out of your way, if you want to do more than spend a quick hour burning off your crazy kid’s energy.
The Turnagain park is located off Wisconsin Street, a few blocks south of West Northern Lights Boulevard. It boasts not only a dynamic playground, but also a covered spot to snack, a historical walk through one of Alaska’s most memorable moments and plenty of space for all kinds of other activities. Oh, did I mention it’s an all-inclusive park?
Best play equipment: the AstroTurf. Yeah, yeah, I know, I say this every time. But this park was the FIRST park in town to get AstroTurf, and if you haven’t experienced it yet, you have to. As a parent, here’s what I love about it: it’s warm and it’s welcoming. If you watch the parents at Balto Seppala, you’ll see that they don’t stand back and watch their kids play. Most of them are right next to the play equipment standing on the AstroTurf. Most have their shoes off and some are even lying on the ground, soaking in the soft welcoming warmth. On top of that, the artificial grass offers a cushion of support for kids who fall off the play equipment from any height. Instead of suffering a tragic accident, they’ll most likely leave with a broken arm or leg. Safer for kids and more enjoyable for parents: how can you go wrong?
Best for ages: 5-12. This park caters towards big kids. The most popular piece of equipment functions as a very fast, single-person merry-go-round. It’s great because you can operate it by yourself, but it goes even faster when someone else pushes you.
Next to it, you’ll find what I can only describe as an "American Ninja Warrior" challenge. Can you balance while standing on tiny balls of plastic while trying to scoot your hands down a wheel of instability? I sure couldn’t – although I am rather uncoordinated, so I can’t wait for a 10-year-old to eat my lunch next time I’m there!
I also figured out what the flat piece of rubber-like material on a swing is. A surfboard! It’s meant to practice balance. Here’s what I have to say about that: I’m a former figure skater, and the first five times I got on it, I launched off the thing and barely recovered before having to tuck into a barrel roll! If you have a little one: the slides are the best. My 4 year-old just learned to “pump” her feet and wouldn’t get off the swing. My 1-year-old loved the toddler swing. Well, at least he yelled for 20 minutes while I pushed him.
If you want more: Little Free Library. Need to take a time out? Have a kiddo that likes solitude? This is the only park in Anchorage (and there are more than 200) that has a stand where kids can look at books, take a minute to read them and even take a few home for free. One of the many neat things about Balto Seppala is that the neighborhood got involved was very involved with the planning process and one of the most important things they wanted was access to books.
Shelter with a lot of picnic tables. This is great for grilling or a party or just hanging out all day. Bring a lunch, bring some raw meat and just chill. This park has potential for all day use.
Want to take a hike? Great! There’s history here as well. The park commemorates the 1925 serum run from Seward to Nome. Balto was the lead dog on the last leg to deliver the diphtheria antidote. Leonhard Seppala was the musher that traveled the most difficult route of the more than 600 mile journey, over the Norton Sound in the middle of an extreme blizzard. You can experience some of the highlights of the original run plus the modern version of that treacherous journey – the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – on a path recently built by the Youth Employment in Parks program.
Green space. Want to play a pick up soccer game? Practice your volleyball skills? There’s a great open space right next to the park. Turnagain Elementary kids can walk to the park thanks to all the green space nearby. Oh, and if you’re a small kid, the hill there is the best sledding hill. Ever.
Sand pit. My daughter could have spent four hours in the sand pit with the digger equipment if I let her. If you bring shovels and tools with you, I guarantee an extra 30 minutes of adult time while your kids explore what’s underneath the surface.
There's just one downside. The bathroom situation isn’t the best. Yes, there are 2 porta-potties close by, but on three visits in two weeks, the kids and I got skunked with toilet paper, and it was obvious without going into too many details that they hasn’t been serviced in a while.
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