By Emily Harrington
My son likes to throw mulch. He’s been so invested in playing with mulch, in fact, I’ve found it in his Pull-Up before. Because of his interest in these messy chips, I have an appreciation for mulch-free playgrounds. I especially have an appreciation for these rubberized play areas after a day of rain when traditional play areas are muddy messes. The mat’s composition doesn’t seem to pool water, so it’s often dry the day after a storm.
The mat areas are most often found directly beneath the play equipment. The material is rubbery, and it has a little give underneath your foot. If your little one falls, the cushion softens their fall more than uneven, splintery mulch. Ouch.
The Champaign Park District (CPD) has installed the mat material in lieu of mulch at several area parks.
- Centennial Park in front of Sholem Aquatic Center and next to the Leonhard Recreation Center on Sangamon Drive in Champaign
- Eisner Park at 1311 W. Church St. in Champaign
- Douglass Park at 512 E. Grove St. in Champaign
- Garden Hills at 1674 Bloomington Rd. in Champaign
- Hessel Park Waterplay at 1401 Grandview Dr. in Champaign
- Porter Family Park at 2310 S. Rising Rd. in Champaign
- West Side Park at 400 W. University Ave. in Champaign
CPD director of marketing and communications, Chelsea Norton, said it is much more expensive to outfit parks with the rubberized material initially, so this upgrade generally gets rolled into bigger projects. Although, annually the cost is less to maintain. The smaller more “neighborhood parks” get customary mulch. Hessel Park’s new playground will have the rubberized-safety surfacing because the project has a larger budget, Norton said.
Accessibility is also a factor. Wheelchairs are able to maneuver on the material much easier than on a mulch surface.
The Urbana Park District (UPD) superintendent of planning and operations, Derek Liebert, said the UPD has not installed any of the mat material at this time. They use an engineered wood fiber mulch that meets playground safety and accessibility standards. It does require reapplication over time, but it’s not as costly in the long run as the upkeep required on the mats.
With impending warm weather and spring showers, visit one of these modern parks! You can leave your rain boots at home.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life, because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son—a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.