When you take your kids to play at the new Dove Springs playground, you might think you’re just there to enjoy an awesome outdoor space. And there’s a whole lot to enjoy — not just a really cool playground with two playscapes, but also nature trails snaking through the beautiful park, a pool, several lovely, shady picnic tables, a breezy, open-air pavilion, a zip line (!), and more.
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But you may not realize the beauty that surrounds you has a really cool story behind it, or that you’re enjoying the fruits of a true labor of love that united the Dove Springs neighborhood with the St. David’s Foundation, the Austin Parks Foundation, Mayor Steve Adler, and the Austin community over the past couple of years. In short, a few years ago, Dove Springs Park was run down and in bad shape, and kids in the community didn’t go there to play because of safety issues. So a group of mamas got together and applied for funding to improve the playground. The project broke ground in June 2014, and the new, awesome space opened in May this year! The St. David’s Foundation produced a really lovely video telling the story of this beautiful park renovation; check it out here (warning: It’s kind of a tearjerker, and really worth watching!).
Recently, I took my kids to the new playground. Dove Springs District Park is located at 5801 Ainez Drive, just south of Stassney near Pleasant Valley. We visited on a hot July morning, and the playgrounds themselves have little shade, so I’m not gonna lie—this mama was sweating. But the kids didn’t care about the heat; they were just really into climbing and swinging and jumping and sliding and all the other fun stuff there was to do. Plus, there are many shady spots surrounding the playscapes for parents to sit and watch their kids. If your children are a little older than mine and more able to be independent at the park, you’ll have no trouble finding a breezy, comfortable spot to sit while they play.
The parking lot is kind of a far walk from the playground, but that’s okay. Along the way, you pass the Community Center and then the big, breezy pavilion filled with picnic tables. Dove Springs Pool is off to the right, and trees, hills and crushed-granite nature trails are all around. It really is a beautiful place.
The kids went straight for the “treehouse” playscape first. It looks like a bunch of trees turned into a space for climbing, sliding and hiding in all the nooks and crannies. There were so many things to discover, like the armadillo steps leading up to one portion of the playscape, and other animals built into various parts of the scape—so cool!
One minor disappointment was the Animal Trackers feature, where you’re supposed to be able to touch buttons to hear sounds of a prairie dog, a barn owl, a coyote and a wild horse… But the buttons didn’t seem to work. We were bummed. We wanted to hear those animal sounds!
Also noteworthy about the playground area: A portion of the treehouse playscape is wheelchair-accessible, but not all of it. There is also a smaller playscape intended for smaller children, and there are three kinds of swings available—infant swings, regular big-kid/adult swings, and one modified swing that looked like it would provide more safety and support.
Parts of the slides and steps up to the playscapes were pretty hot in the summer sun. My kids complained about that a couple of times. I’m sure a visit to this playground on a cooler or cloudier day would be even more fun, but even with the heat, it was so great.
My favorite part of the whole experience was the zip line! It only took me one turn on the thing, however, to learn that it’s really not for big people… It’s better for kids. I took Pearl on my lap for a ride, since she’s really too little to do it on her own yet. Our combined weight is close to 200 pounds, and, well, we bottomed out midway through our trip down the cable, because we were just too heavy to stay up! The good thing was, the entire expanse of the zip line course is covered in soft wood chips, so when we bottomed out, we just kind of tumbled gently onto the ground, and neither one of us was hurt. We laughed, and so did all the people watching us. But the zip line worked out a lot better for kids who were big enough to do it on their own, but not so heavy that they weighed it down!
We didn’t have a chance to walk any of the trails, because the kids were so into the playground area. My son had a great time crawling around in the dry creek bed running between the two playscapes, and both kids went down the slides about 50 times each. Next time we go, I want to check out the trails and see what there is to discover in the rest of the park.
I think Dove Springs Park would be a perfect spot for a birthday party, since there are so many fun things to do, and plenty of good, shady, breezy spots to sit and enjoy snacks and treats for groups of any size.
Here are a few more pics of our trip:
If you want to read more about the history and current issues of the Dove Springs neighborhood, here is a really good, poignant article from last year’s Chronicle by Sam Ramos.
For more information, visit the Austin Parks Foundation website.