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Contributing writer Kate Churches is reviewing family-friendly parks in the greater Greenville-Spartanburg area. Have a park you’d like to suggest? Let us know! Email angcamp@upstateparent.com. We are adding to this list all the time, so if you don’t see a park in your area, check back! Greenville, Spartanburg and Pickens counties all have parks with kid-friendly features worthy of an afternoon visit — or two! You can find a list for Greenville County at http://greenvillerec.com/; Spartanburg County at http://spartanburgparks.org; and Pickens County at http://www.visitpickenscounty.com/nature-outdoors/parks-gardens/.

Cleveland Park

Greenville’s Cleveland Park, featuring 122 acres along the Reedy River, was created in 1928. It’s an easy walk from Falls Park, we love going at zoo visits, and of course, the park offers plenty on its own.

My kids, ages 7, 5 and 2, adore the main playground by the zoo, which has age-appropriate structures for all of them. However, monitoring them is stressful because of the crowds, plus the distance between the play structures. Tackling this park was easier with an only child! The other downside is the rubberized play surface radiates heat in summer months, with shade tents offering little relief.

Our solution is spending more time at the smaller (and cooler) play zones. The red train adjacent to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is hit for all three of my kids. Coming from Falls Park, you reach the train before the main playground. Plus, we love the play area near the Julie Valentine Memorial, which is also accessible via the woodsy trail behind Caine Halter YMCA, if you enjoy a stroll.

If you do choose to limit your time at the main playground, avoid the zoo lot and park elsewhere. Out of sight, out of mind.

If you go…

Runway Park

Runway Park at Greenville Downtown Airport is a one-of-a-kind playground experience with aircraft-themed play structures and a view of planes taking off and landing.

Cooler months are an ideal time to visit due to lack of shade. Lara Kaufmann, GMU’s public relations director, said shade structures are minimal to give clear views to pilots. The park is mostly fenced and includes a runway-inspired track for riding toys. Even during the week, the park is frequented by plenty of playmates, yet without crowd chaos. Educational markers will be placed this spring, Kaufmann said, although funds are needed for paved parking and restrooms. Plans call for restrooms to be added this year as well, she said. The current paved parking lot belongs to the Runway Cafe restaurant, Kaufmann explained, so park visitors should park in the unpaved lot to the right of the park.

Note to newcomers: Don’t go to the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer; this park is located at the Greenville Downtown Airport, 21 Airport Road Extension, Greenville.

If you go…

Legacy Park

With an enclosed toddler area and a wide open field dotted with shade trees, Legacy Park is one of the Upstate’s most popular parks.

The big kid structures are easy to see from the preschool area, so monitoring siblings is no headache. A lovely stone picnic pavilion, new restrooms and a landscaped water feature, give a more welcoming feel than other, older parks’ barebones structures. Kids love to meander (or sprint) down the rolling hills to the pond and fountain. Or, relax on porch-style bench swings. However you occupy your time, this park strikes perfect balance between enough visitors for children to make friends without being too crowded.

If you go…

McPherson Park

Near the intersection of North Main Street and Park Avenue, McPherson Park is a unique find along the Reedy’s banks. A free miniature golf course is the centerpiece of the park. Bring your own balls and clubs —  plastic golf sets from discount stores work fine. The restroom facility is modern, and of course, there is the standard jungle gym with swings.

Psst… there’s a secret playground!

McPherson also has what my family calls “the secret playground.” It’s truly a secret because most people don’t know it’s there. Follow the path along the riverbank behind the residential development (it may look like private property, but it is public). Parallel paths run along both sides of the river bank, but both paths work because bridges provide easy access. Pass the water feature with spectacular landscaping. Soon, out of the woods appears a small play area designed for preschool-age kids, but the sneaky location is fun for the elementary crowd (and grown-ups) too.

If you go…

Gower Estates Park

Tucked behind the busy intersection at Laurens and Haywood roads in Greenville you will find Gower Estates Park, with 21 acres looped by a one-mile, paved trail, according to the city of Greenville website. Known for plenty of shade and its landmark tank (a veteran’s memorial), Gower often has as many adults playing as children. There is tennis, basketball and disc golf during the day and softball at night. The wooded playground offers several play structures and swing sets. Insider tips: the restrooms at the back of the park are locked unless a shelter is rented. Open restrooms are near the baseball diamond, but facilities are bare-bones. Crowds appear on holidays, but other times things are more relaxed.

If you go…

Century Park/Kids Planet

Century Park in Greer includes the Kids Planet playground, which features a unique layout and custom-built wooden structures, totally unlike the ordinary metal play equipment found at most local parks. The area near the parking lot is appropriate for young toddlers, while preschoolers and older kids will enjoy the large castle-like fort in the back. Swings and a xylophone offer more activities. The only downside to this park is visibility, which is especially challenging when supervising a group of kids. The wooden slats of the fort are nailed close together for safety; however children can only be seen through narrow gaps between the slats. On a busy day, finding one child in the crowd is tricky. A child can be one spot for a second, seemingly disappear, then mysteriously reappear at the other end of the playground. TIP: Dress your kids in brightly colored clothing!

If you go…

Quick look: Three more parks…

Conestee Park

Located at 840 Mauldin Road, Greenville, this park features a dog park, playground, walking trail and playing fields. Lake Conestee Nature Park also connects to the park.

Herdklotz Park

Located at 126 Beverly Road, Greenville, this park is near a farmer’s market and offers panoramic views of downtown Greenville. There is also a large playground, small playground and picnic shelter.

Cleveland Park

Located at 141 N. Cleveland Park Drive, Spartanburg, this lakeside park features walking trails, lakeside swings, benches and picnic shelters. It also has a fairly new playground — the largest in Spartanburg County.

Find more at www.upstateparent.com

Looking for things to do with kids in Greenville-Spartanburg? More stories relevant to families? Visit www.upstateparent.com.

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