Rockford parks offer clean, safe summer fun

Families enjoy the fun at Highland Park off Rural Street in Rockford. (Photo by Shauna Ubersox)

By Shauna Ubersox
Staff Writer

As the summer kicks into high gear, so do the droves of families making their way to a number of Rockford parks. Moms, dads and kids dash into the sun to play on playground equipment or golf courses, in water or in trees. With 175 parks, facilities, services and programs run by the Rockford Park District, it is hard not to find somewhere to have a good time.

Rockford, also known as the Forest City, is dotted with parks from one side of town to the other. Parks like Highland Park, off Rural Street, are often located in residential areas near elementary schools. As a kid, it was easy for my friends and our parents to walk down the street from Maud Johnson Elementary School to play after the school day was done.

Then, as it is now, the park was well maintained and conducive to a safe, fun atmosphere. Highland is hospitable to patrons of all ages — the playground equipment, from sandbox to swings, is all in working order, and the tennis courts and baseball diamond are well-kept.

Tennis courts at Highland Park, off Rural Street in Rockford. (Photo by Shauna Ubersox)

While Highland is not the most accessible park, there are many others that fit the bill for kids with disabilities. The Rockford Park District website provides a map noting the location and amenities of each site. The rankings also come with wheelchair accessibility ratings to aid planning visits to specific parks. The ratings system was adopted from the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.

Free and low-fee programs are on the menu for the season, featuring as many low-cost activities as possible for park patrons. Of course, there are always the recreational trails, and all the playgrounds are open for business. Elementary school playgrounds are included in the list of parks kept by the Rockford Park District.

However, there are tons of other free attractions to enjoy. All three area skate parks are open, plus the 36-hole Frisbee golf course at Anna Page Park. Friday Night Flix, hosted at Davis Park, are running now through Aug. 24. Lockwood Park Children’s Farm and Trailside Equestrian Centre allows families to visit farm animals on Saturdays, weather permitting, and the Lockwood Observatory gazes at stars every second and fourth Saturday.

Ten Rockford playgrounds are host to the annual Time 2 Play programs, where area kids can attend full- or half-day programs for free. These summer staples help kids to socialize, while providing two services: keeping children entertained during long summer days, and helping adults to manage their schedules while their children are out of school. Kids play different sports and games, participate in arts and crafts, and more.

Out of the many Rockford summer attractions, a sure sweet spot is always the public pool. The three pools that fall under the Rockford Park District jurisdiction are Alpine Pool, off Newburg Road; James Lesley Harkins III Aquatic Center, off Acorn Street; and Sand Park Aquatic Facility, off East Riverside Boulevard.

The pool facilities offer a number of learn-to-swim and lifeguard training opportunities, and they employ many Rockford teens through the summer months.

And, of course, there is no forgetting that paragon of summer fun — Magic Waters Waterpark, easily seen from the highway. Its slides and rides are what identify Rockford for many from out of town: “Isn’t Rockford that place with the waterpark?” “I think I’ve been to Rockford, my family went to a waterpark there once…”

The eternal boon and bane of parents and babysitters, Magic Waters is a popular summer day-cation spot. The park’s many opportunities for fun are a great way to spend the day with friends and family. This year, Magic Waters has installed two new speed slides, the steepest in the region — the Double Dare Drop, which sends riders down a 75-foot drop.

In the Rockford Park District’s glowing tableau, Magic Waters may be the only semi-shady spot. Usually filled to capacity, the park is also home to beetles, high prices, and a lack of general cleanliness. Truly, there is only so much a park staff can do with so many visitors, but finding Band-Aids and gum on land and in water is not an attractive prospect. However, this has much to do with the attitude of the park’s patrons, as well — pick up after yourself!

On the other hand, Magic Waters is not what defines the city or its parks, as proved by passing motorists — if all you know of Rockford is that we have a waterpark, you probably do not know very much about us at all. We have much, much more to offer than the summit of the Splash Blaster.

The Rockford Park District, and, indeed, the city, does a good job of keeping our parks clean, up to date and safe. Serving the greater Rockford area, Rockford’s parks are an enjoyable way to pass the days and provide past times and pleasure for the patrons who frequent them.

For more about area parks and summer programs, visit or call the Rockford Park District at (815) 987-8800.

From the June 20-26, 2012, issue

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