I have a lot of friends in the state of Texas and I've been continuously jealous of them for the past five years. They have these wonderful free spray parks (spraygrounds!) for kids to play in when it's hot. I'm so thrilled that I have no more reason to be jealous!
Last year, Pittsburgh City Parks announced a plan to put in several spray parks in city neighborhoods. The first one, in the Cowley Playground in Troy Hill, opened last summer (pictured right). (Read my review from last summer) Their newest spray park in Vanucci Playground on Orangewood Avenue in the City's Beechview neighborhood, opened June 5, 2010. The spray parks each cost about $320,000 to build, and are far less expensive than pools to maintain.
The Troy Hill spray park has become one of the city's most popular water attractions. The Allegheny County Parks Department saw that success and decided to jump on the spray park bandwagon, opening two spray parks at county parks - Round Hill Park in Elizabeth and Deer Lakes Park in Frazier and West Deer township.
So that brings our total of (free!) spray parks in the Pittsurgh area to four, two in the city and two in the suburbs. I can now brag to all of those friends in Texas.
I had the opportunity to visit both of the County spray parks in the past two days (my boys think they've died and gone to heaven)
Deer Lakes Park Spray Park
The Deer Lakes spray park is located near the playground near Creighton Russelton and Mehaffey roads, right at the entrance to Deer Lakes Park. We live about three miles from this park, so we visit the park a lot. We spend a lot of Sunday mornings there feeding the ducks, taking walks and playing on the playground. This spray area is a perfect addition.
The operating hours, according to an employee of the park, are 10 am - 8 pm seven days a week, through Labor Day. The water will occasionally cycle off for a few minutes at a time (we found it to be every 15 minutes or so). To turn the water back on, the park is equiped with a sensor (on the blue fire hydrant) that you just need to put your hand over for several seconds. It sometimes takes a minute or two (and sometimes it seemed lke the water had to be off for 5 minutes or so before it would come back on), but if you're persistant, the water will eventually start again, don't fear. We found the be the cycling off a perfect opportunity to get the kids OUT of the water when we were ready to go.
The Deer Lakes spray park is conveniently located right next to the playground, so parents can park themselves on the grass somewhere and not have to move if the kids want to go back and forth between the water and the playground.
The playground not the newest or nicest playground I've ever been to. In fact, I'd probably use the word "tired" and in need of some TLC. I was somewhat surprised that Deer Lakes was chosen, given the condition of the playground. But it's safe and functional, just not as new or exciting as some other local playgrounds.
While no permanent bathroom is available, there is a porta potty right next to the spray park making urgent potty needs no problem. There is no parent seating near the spray area, though, so bring a blanket. There is also not much around within the direct area of the park so you might want to pack a lunch or snacks (although it appears that both a diner and pizza shop are opening right next to the entrance of the park).
Deer Lakes Spray Park - The park is small, just what you see here, but plenty enough sprinklers and fun stuff to keep kids occupied
While visiting Deer Lakes Park, bring some bread to feed the ducks while you take a stroll around the lake
Round Hill Park Spray Park
The Round Hill Park spray park is located near the Clover Crest Grove on Hereford Drive in Elizabeth. Once you enter Round Hill park, instead of going right to park at the farm, take a left toward the groves and it is right at the first grove, you'll see it at the end of the parking lot.
The spray park is identical to the Deer Lakes park with the exception of the colors and the "farm" theme (as opposed to Deer Lakes "fish" theme).
The water is open the same hours as Dee Lakes (10 am - 8 pm through Labor Day) and the water works the same way (cycles off, hold the sensor for several seconds to turn it back on. Be patient and persistant).
Again there is no parent seating, so bring a blanket or some chairs. There is also no permanent bathroom and the porta potty is located at the other end of the parking lot, which I found to be a bit of annoyance (think of how often your kids have the urge to go when playing in water, the multiply that by the 7 kids we had there today). There is also no playground directly connected. There is a small play area within walking distance, but you'd definitely have to make the choice to move your things.
There also doesn't seem to be too many eating options nearby so packing a lunch/snacks would be recommended.
One thing that I loved about Round Hill was the farm. I'd never been there before and it was such fun to go walk around the farm after we were done playing. We got the kids dressed and drove over tot the farm. We spent an hour walking around and seeing all of the animals, petting the sheep and horses. It was lots of fun.The Bottom Line
You really can't go wrong at either of these parks, especially since their design is identical (same size and positions of sprinklers, etc). There are advantages to Deer Lakes (playground and potty vicinity as well as the ability to walk over to the lake and feed the ducks) and to Round Hill (farm to visit, beautiful park), but for a free, fun option on a hot summer day we should all count ourselves lucky to live in the region.