Wading out the heat

  • Article by: AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2012 - 4:25 PM

Once prolific throughout the metro area, wading pools are gradually becoming "splash pads."

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Emma Rose held the hands of her daughter Lucia Geyette, 15 months, as they played in a fountain at the Lake Hiawatha Park wading pool.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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A competitive game of splash tag makes it tough for the tadpoles and guppies to hear their parents holler the dreaded words: "Time to get out of the pool!"

Eventually, reluctantly, 6-year-old pals Ava Riley and Serenity Craven make their way through a city of splashing toddlers and water skyscrapers to dry land, where beach towels and rubber flip-flops wait. Water drips off their sun-kissed noses. They pout, pleading for just a few more minutes, please, Mom, please. Naptime is non-negotiable, but Ava's mother, Mimi Riley, makes a promise: "We can come back after dinner," she says.

Wading pools have long been neighborhood fixtures throughout Minneapolis. Like this one at Lake Hiawatha Park. From sunup to sundown, especially when temperatures push toward the triple digits, the pool is swimming with kids and their families looking for a close, convenient place to cool off.

"It's like a small village here," said Riley, who lives across the street. "We're all neighbors. We all look after one another's kids."

In the 1950s and 1960s, when many of the city's 65 wading pools were built, simple shallow pools were the creme de la creme of summertime play. As charming as these no-frills pools are, some are too old and expensive to maintain. So Minneapolis, along with St. Paul and some of the suburbs, is gradually replacing its wading pools with "splash pads," water-based playgrounds with elaborate fountains, dump buckets and sprinkler arches, but no real pool.

Lake Hiawatha Park, which recently underwent a renovation, is a hybrid: part wading pool, part splash pad. And, once again, it's a neighborhood gem. A place where kids can explore a watery new world, if only for the summer months.

After a quick dousing of sunscreen at the pool's edge, a timid but curious Lucia Geyette takes her first steps toward the water. The 15-month-old keeps a vise-grip hold of her mother's fingers. Her gaze darts toward the row of dancing fountains, and, like the splashing kids around her who've discovered the sweet, ticklish sensation of stepping on the ground geysers, little Lucia is instantly in wet 'n' wild toddler heaven. She lets go. And a fish is born.

  • PICK A POOL St. Paul opened its first splash pad in 2011 at Lewis Park. It's free and open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board operates 65 free wading pools that are open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit www.startribune.com/a1539, or call 612-230-6400. Many of the surrounding cities, including Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park, Eden Prairie, Cottage Grove, Blaine, Apple Valley and Roseville, have new splash pads.
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