Adventure

Adventure Playground, the most beautiful mud hole on Earth, returns to Huntington Beach this summer – Orange County Register

Adventure Playground, the most beautiful mud hole on Earth, returns to Huntington Beach this summer – Orange County Register

It’s a throwback to simpler times, when kids created their own disorganized sports and got dirty – really dirty – in the process.

Inspired by the primitive do-it-yourself amusement parks then in vogue in Europe, adventure playground opened in Huntington Beach in 1974 as an antidote to city life. A child’s wonderland like no other was basically a big mud pit at the bottom of an abandoned sand pit.

“I vividly remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe my parents let me do this!'” Holly McGovern, 56, said.

“We would swing on a rope from a big tree and dive into the pond, if that’s what you want to call it. It was more mud than water.

The first adventure playground in Huntington Beach opened in 1974 in an abandoned sand pit, adjacent to its permanent location being renovated. The original playground was even more rustic than it would become over the years. Not only could kids slide down muddy hills and paddle rafts through a mud pit, but they could also build their own “forts,” climb rope ladders, and zipline on tires. Signs drawn by children marked the site. (Photo courtesy of Chris Epting)

The original site closed five years later after a flood.

In 1981, it reappeared on an adjacent 1.5-acre parcel, consuming a fraction of scenic Central Park, Orange County’s largest city park.

Only open during the summer months, Adventure Park was unavailable in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus. Now the city and a pass of volunteers are working on its big – but not too grand – rebirth in June.

“We decided to use this break to do some renovations,” said Huntington Beach community services manager Chris Cole.

It’s both surprising and charming that the idea of ​​a city-run swamp has survived 48 years, entertaining some 10,000 children each summer.

Of course, some of the rough edges have been ironed out by time and caution. The kid-built treehouses, zip line swing and slapdash rope bridge are long gone.

But the two-foot-deep murky lagoon remains. The same goes for the stand-up paddleboard rafts that are sure to mean messy splashes, as well as the slimy mounds for sliding down.

Emily Gritchen, and her brother, Alex Gritchen, paddle a raft at Adventure Playground in Central Park in Huntington Beach, CA on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. The park, built in the early 1980s, has stand-up paddle rafts , forts on stilts built around the trees and a slide in a mud pit. It was closed due to COVID-19 and is being rebuilt. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Registry/SCNG)

“He’s got a Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer feel,” said city worker Garrett Marchbank. “This place is not a cardboard cutout of typical playgrounds. Children use their imagination and create their own entertainment.

In recent months, two dozen members of Huntington Beach Boy Scout Troop 274 have worked to erect a wooden staircase up a hill. From above, daredevils can race down a slippery slope into the swamp below. Each step is filled with decomposed granite to provide traction for little wet feet.

“Some of us had never used a sledgehammer before,” said 17-year-old Joe Broadway, a junior at Huntington Beach High.

Joe Broadway, 17, sits on steps he built as part of his Eagle Scout project, at Adventure Playground in Central Park in Huntington Beach, CA on Thursday, February 17, 2022. The park, built in the early 1980s, has a stand-up paddle of rafts, stilt forts built around trees, and a mud pit slide. It was closed due to COVID-19 and is being rebuilt. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Registry/SCNG)

Other updates include three new forts, all on stilts. The low treehouses hug the same trees as before.

As much as possible – whether for the forts, the staircase or the fixed changing rooms – the wood of the old structures has been reused for a second life.

Thanks to an outpouring of free labor, the facelift will cost the city about $22,000, with most of the expenses going to materials.

Tustin building contractor Sean Hille – who spent hours at Adventure Playground as a youth and later as a father – volunteered to build the forts.

“I wanted the playground to go on,” Hille said. “It’s a place where kids are just kids.”

Newly constructed platforms at Adventure Playground at Central Park in Huntington Beach, CA on Thursday, February 17, 2022. The park, built in the early 1980s, has stand-up paddle rafts, stilt forts built around trees and a water slide for a mud pit. It was closed due to COVID-19 and is being rebuilt. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Registry/SCNG)

Until the pandemic shut it down, Adventure Playground continued to offer another kind of forbidden fruit: hammers, nails, and loose chunks of wood.

However, nails won’t be making a comeback this summer. Cleaning up small sharp points at the end of the day takes time for staff, Cole said. Instead, the park will offer supervised classes where children can assemble pre-cut birdhouses and the like.

So, yeah, things have changed from the days when kids could shelter inside their own sloppy huts that were vulnerable to a strong breeze.

“It was kind of ridiculous, now that I think about it,” Brian Fujita, 42, said. “I was under 10, making makeshift forts that we climbed all over. These days parents protest if their child has a splinter.

The first adventure playground in Huntington Beach opened in 1974 in an abandoned sand pit, adjacent to its permanent location being renovated. The original playground was even more rustic than it would become over the years. Not only could kids slide down muddy hills and paddle rafts through a mud pit, but they could also build their own “forts,” climb rope ladders, and zipline on tires. Signs drawn by children marked the site. (Photo courtesy of Chris Epting)

Fujita, a local graphic designer, remembers doing a lot of scraps. “Your shoes would get stuck in the mud and you would go down,” he said. “Or you would push yourself with sticks on the water and your rig would sink.

“But I don’t remember me or anyone else ever being injured,” Fujita added. “I probably wouldn’t trust myself there today. I don’t know how many times I’ve cut myself while cooking.

McGovern, a beautician in Lake Havasu, and her sister relished the feeling that they were breaking all the rules.

“We could do everything we weren’t allowed to do in real life – touch rusty nails, get super dirty,” she said. “Mom lined the back seat of the van with trash bags because we were so dirty and disgusting.”

Jeff Kirkwood, 53, a water district technologist in Huntington Beach, remembers walking down a long ramp to reach the old sandbox after his mother dropped him off. If the parents were hanging out, they usually watched from above to stay relatively dry and clean.

“You were free!” said Kirkwood. “We felt empowered to do whatever we wanted. It nurtured our independence.

The first adventure playground in Huntington Beach opened in 1974 in an abandoned sand pit, adjacent to its permanent location being renovated. The original playground was even more rustic than it would become over the years. Not only could kids slide down muddy hills and paddle rafts through a mud pit, but they could also build their own “forts,” climb rope ladders, and zipline on tires. Signs drawn by children marked the site. (Photo courtesy of Chris Epting)

Today, children must be accompanied by an adult. At first, admission was a quarter. It’s now $4 per child and free for accompanying guardians.

Also called “junk playgrounds”, adventure playgrounds became popular in Europe after World War II, before making their way to the United States.

Huntington Beach and Berkeley have arguably the only authentic adventure playgrounds in California. Irvine has a nice place called Adventure Playground, but it’s much more pristine.

Five decades ago, Karen Harris helped christen the first edition of Surf City’s quirky Adventure Playground.

“I loved building forts with the boys,” she said. “I wasn’t one to play with dolls.”

Harris, 58, now a home renovator in Fairbanks, Alaska, would have gone ‘slipping 1,000 times on the mudslide’ every day, if it weren’t for her mother who needed breaks after dirty laundry.

“It was the best place ever,” Harris said, “even more fun than the beach.”