31st Street Harbor: Chicago's Best New Playground

I am a distance runner, a regular pounder of the lakefront pavement, and for two years, I've been watching with a mix of annoyance and curiosity the construction taking place along the shore around 31st Street. One day, all of a sudden, there was a crane IN THE WATER...or, I realized, atop a newly-created structure where previously there had been only water. Behold, the power of man. Yesterday morning, when I was out for my long run, the path (which had been diverted for so long) suddenly jogged east, and there it was: the new park and harbor, open to the public.

Some will be resistant to this new development, and I'm sure many have good reasons. Lots of people might want to know about the 1,000 new boat slips or the fancy harbor. I'm not your girl for those things. I am, however, your girl for a review of this new space from the perspective of someone with a family, so here it is: THIS PLACE IS SO COOL.

I have to tell you, first, that I couldn't resist sliding into the park from its south side...while I was still on my run. Yes, before S was with me. I, alone, an age I won't post on the blog (I'm 19 in my head, if that matters)...I went down the slide. And I laughed, out loud. It was awesome! So let's start there: this slide (not pictured) is the tallest of 4, and it serves as an entrance to the playground from atop the parking garage/indoor space. There's also a winding path and a rock climbing wall. All points of park entry. The other 3 slides are equally appealing: a toddler slide with a grade that allows wee ones to (relatively) safely climb UP (any parent of a toddler knows this is the preferred method of slide play). A conveyor belt-type contraption that uses the power of rollers to slide your child down (S had a blast, but I'd be careful of little fingers). And there's this:

Rail Slide

That's my husband, B, gracefully demonstrating for you, dear reader, how to use this rail slide. There were tons of kids going down it, but they were moving so fast there was no way to get a good pic!

The playground has a Seussian feel overall -- everything is wavy and curvy, and there are lots of hills to climb up and fall down.

31st Street Harbor Park

The play structures are clearly labelled for kids 5-12, though, with our close supervision, S had a blast and didn't suffer any head traumas (we did see another toddler bust his lip pretty wide open, so I'd advise VERY close supervision if you're taking a wee one).

There is a lot of big-kid stuff, including rock-climbing walls, deliberately shaky footholds, literal hoops to jump through, monkey bars out the wazoo, and several unidentifiable structures that I'm certain would be ably demonstrated to me by a lively 10-year old.

Rock Climbing for Kids

The park isn't quite finished -- when we took S back yesterday afternoon, there was a team of nimble-fingered playground engineers working away to install the swings (there are 8, including baby swings, big kid swings, and a handicapped swing). I'm told, at an estimate, the playground is between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet. That sounds huge, but it's not. The structures are packed comfortably close together, and you won't have to run a marathon to keep up with your kids (nor is anyone likely to get far out of sight).

Other cool things about this park:
-- the bike/jogging/pedestrian/vehicle lanes are all well-marked, with clear crosswalks
-- there are around three dozen picnic tables, some shaded, some along the water
-- ample grassy space for kids whose preferred mode of play takes place in wide open spaces
-- a SERIOUS view of the skyline to the north
-- a for-rent community room, which I bet would be a cool option for a boat-crazy kid's birthday party

Parking won't be free for long, but it's only 4 miles from Hyde Park, so if you're a runner with a jogging stroller, or if you take family bike rides, it's a perfect little jaunt up the lakefront. The harbor itself takes up about half a mile of the shore, and really, people, it's just beautiful. Check it out. We'll see you there!

Until then, happy playing, Hyde Park!

Filed under: Hyde Park Places

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