When a friend suggested my daughter and I meet her and her kids at a park in Huntley, I was skeptical. Huntley? Isn’t that the town with the sad-looking outlet mall? The place we pass on Interstate 90 when headed to my in-laws’ house? And wouldn’t it take me at least 45 minutes to get there?
The answers were yes, yes, yes. But let me tell you – the drive was more than worth it. And as a result, Deicke Park is the very first park to be featured in the new weekly Go West Young Mom “Great Parks!” series.
Deicke Park is a picturesque, 28-acre public park located on Route 47 about five miles of I-90. It’s part of the Huntley Park District, and it has your standard tennis courts, horseshoe courts, basketball courts, picnic shelters, etc.
But the reason to make the trip to Huntley is the Discovery Zone, a playground that just opened in Deicke Park this past summer. It’s basically a play village for toddlers and preschoolers – with a rubber-cushion surface covering most everything that’s not a sidewalk, which are done in concrete. And despite looking like a junior amusement park, there is no admission fee.
Your kids can pretend to get their hair cut at Hoppy’s Barber Shop, or serve up imaginary ice cream cones at the Huntley Dairy Mart. (There’s an abacus for keeping track of orders and money!) They can scramble around playground equipment that looks like a firetruck, steer a “school bus” that rolls from side to side, ride in a playground train, play a variety of musical instruments, put mommy in the “zoo,” or practice their shot at a series of basketball hoops of different heights.
Bells actually sound at the railroad crossing, and there is a giant chalkboard wall on which to leave your mark. Note that there is also a sand play area, but my daughter was so enamored with everything else I didn’t even have to steer her away. Because I would have – I really hate sand outside of beaches and splash parks.
On the sign in front of the park, the recommended age for the Discovery Zone is 2 to 12 years. But I think it would be a fine place to bring a beginning walker – there are so many sturdy structures to help keep his or her balance. And I would think that most children would age out of this sort of place by 7 or 8, although maybe it would help if you brought along some puppets or costumes to help with pretend play. It’s also fully ADA-accessible
Just outside the Discovery Zone is a small brick building that contains men’s and women’s restrooms. (No diaper changing station.)
You’ll likely want to bring your lunch or at least a snack. There are several tables inside the Discovery Zone, and more options outside the wrought iron fence that encloses it.
Another reason I loved this park – besides the fact that it’s just really, really unique – was that there were no dangerously high areas to tempt my brave, but not always well-coordinated, toddler. At so many playgrounds we visit, there is the toddler play equipment, which is just perfect for her. But within minute she’s running over trying to mimic what the big kids are doing on their playground equipment, with the steep, twisty slides and the dangerous drops.
At Discovery Zone, I was able to breathe easy, relax and just enjoy how much fun she was having. I think we both had smiles on our face nearly the entire time!
Now if you do have an older child along, Deicke Park also has a separate playground area with a treehouse theme. It looked quite cool, too, with lots of different places to climb and swing. That’s within walking distance, but you certainly would not be able to see children in both areas at the same time.
Depending on where you live, I know Huntley could be quite a drive – maybe prohibitively so. But if you decide to make the trip this fall, you could use our handy Apple Orchard Guide to combine it with an outing to one of the many orchards around Woodstock, about 10 miles north on Route 47.
Or you can head into the charming town of Woodstock itself and spend some time on the square – where one of my favorite movies, “Groundhog Day,” was filmed. That’s actually what Johanna anad I did after leaving Discovery Zone. I got to browse in some of the cute boutiques and check out restaurants that line the square. Then we shared an ice cream cone, and I watched as she followed in the steps of Bill Murray, running around in the grass near the gazebo.
The result was a day full of great memories that was definitely worth a 45-minute drive.
Do you have a park that you‘d like to nominate to be featured in our new weekly “Great Parks” series? We’d love to hear about it. Email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.