Tara Burghart Monday, August 2, 2010 at 6:01AM
If I had ever seen anything like the Otter Cove Splash Park in St. Charles when I was 6 or 7 years old, I likely would have fainted out of sheer happiness. Do kids today know how good they have it? We had sprinklers to run through – maybe a slip ‘n’ slide – and they have an amazing, soft-surfaced park devoted to all things that spray, bubble and shoot water!
First, I should clear up any confusion about which splash park I’m writing about. Otter Cove is located in West Side Community Park, at the corner of Campton Hills and Peck Roads, in St. Charles. It used to be called the Campton Hills Splash Park, but it is indeed part of the St. Charles Park District. Next summer, it will be joined next door by the Otter Cove Aquatic Park, which will have a zero-depth pool, a toddler pool, a lap pool, tube and body slides and – this sounds especially cool – a lazy river.
I’ve visited the splash park a number of times since my first visit last summer – another one of those times where I think I had just as much fun as my daughter – and I thought I’d share some tips for how to make the most of your visit.
It has four distinct areas – each one of them a bit smaller than the one splash area at Geneva’s Moore Park. One of the spots is a sand play area. Another is especially great for babies and toddlers, because it has a series of troughs that even non-walkers can hold onto and splash around in. The other two have buckets that dump water, water cannons and water wheels. The three play areas offer a nice, cushiony surface. There are a number of giant umbrellas that provide shade for the park’s deck chairs.
In addition to the sunscreen and towels, I’d recommend you bring some buckets and shovels for your kids to play with. Even if they don’t go into the sand play area (somehow I’ve succeeded in keeping my daughter out of it – I really hate sand, by the way) the buckets are fun to use to collect and dump water.
I’d also recommend packing a cooler with some drinks and food. The splash park sells a few snacks at the entrance (granola bars, chips) and has a couple of vending machines with drinks and one with ice cream treats starting at $1. But I would urge you to bring at least some fruit and crackers, because you are likely going to be at the splash park longer than you expect the first time you visit. (No glass containers or alcohol is allowed.) There are two places where you can eat food: A group of tables under a giant umbrella in the center of the park, and a pavilion with tables off to one side.
Next, the hours. The splash park opens at 11 a.m., and the manager told me it is busiest between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Occasionally she has to temporarily stop anyone new from entering the facility if it meets max capacity. In that case, you just have to wait in the shade by the entrance until some visitors leave, usually not more than 10 or 20 minutes. (This reminds me of waiting in line to get into a packed bar in college. Is that a bad comparison to make? Yes? OK. Strike that.)
At around 1 p.m., the park clears somewhat as the afternoon nappers head home. So if you have some flexibility with your schedule, that might be a good time to visit. Personally, I like to arrive later in the day, when it’s still hot but the sun not as unforgiving.
The park does offer some lockers to use to lock up your valuables. It has small restrooms, but no changing stalls, so if you can just deal with changing into and out of your swimsuits at home, that’s best.
The cost to enter the park is $3 for resident children and $6 for non-resident children. (Babies under 1 get in free.) Adults are free with a paid child’s admission. The park is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily until Aug. 24. From Aug. 24 to Sept. 6, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
If at all possible, make sure to visit the Otter Cove Splash Park this summer. Your kids will thank you – and I think you’ll leave pretty happy, too -- once that jealousy wears off about how good kids have it nowadays!