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Kids come from miles around to visit the Salem area playgrounds

For a quick trip outdoors with kids in the summer, nothing beats the local playground. Its a cheap treat, and you can spend as much or as little time there as you want, creating maximum fun for minimum cost. I took my granddaughter, Katie, 3, for whom a trip to the park is just like a trip to Disney World (for all she knows). We visited two Salem-area parks Field of Dreams in Salem and Griffin Park in Windham.

Though there are differences between the two, both got a thumbs up from Katie and other kids we met along the way.

The Field of Dreams is community built and maintained, and includes walking trails, a concert stage and a volleyball court, as well as the playground.

One of the nicest things the playground has going for it is the location. Just down Geremonty Drive from Salem High School, its surrounded by woods, with hills and boulders as part of the landscape. Kids dont have to limit themselves to the play structures, but can explore nature, as well. The shade is great on a hot summer day, like the one we visited on, and the trees were cited by parents as a selling feature for the park. Several families had come from other towns, like Kingston, Keene and Dracut, Mass., to let their kids burn off some energy.

The play structure looks like a castle or fort, and is mostly wooden. It was painted a few years back, with the highest towers in white to contrast with the earthy tones of the rest. Katie liked the slides and swings, but she also had great fun running across and through the seemingly endless bridges and tunnels connecting the different wings. Theres even a hidden hole in a raised platform where kids can climb over two stacked tires and drop down to the ground. Katie had to try that; she succeeded with a little help from her nana. The older boys we saw seemed to have a preference for the zipline and hand-over-hand obstacles. Little Weston Manning, 1, of Kingston, seemed content to play in the bark mulch which covers the ground for soft landings.

The hit of the day, according to Katie, was the choo-choo, a wooden train (stationary, of course) with several cars behind the engine. There she sat with some friends she met, going on an imaginary journey to a place only kids know.

The playground at Griffin Park in Windham hasnt been around as long as the Salem park, but its quite popular. Known as the Tot Lot, its not big in area, but its huge in play value. The playground was added to the park in 2005. It has a cushy rubber floor throughout and some unique features. For one thing, its surrounded by an iron fence with a child-safe gate that took this nana a few minutes to figure out. So that means the kids would be contained for a least a little longer, right? Theres a climbing structure that looks like a mountain range that several kids were crawling all over, and right next to that, a cave-like tower that had leaf-shaped steps inside leading to the top. Nathan Trout, 6, who came over from Salem, shouted Im the king! when he was the first to reach the top.

Katie did the outside climb first, with a boost from her mother.

Swings, of course, are a part of the landscape, which is dominated by a giant slide with three separate chutes connected at the top but ending up facing different directions.

The preschool favorite, though, had to be the animal teeter totter right near the entrance gate. Though it has four metal animals to ride on, the duck was the preference for almost every child. One child threw himself on the ground in disappointment when he found it was occupied, even though a turtle, an inchworm and a frog were there for the taking.

The day was a success, said Katie. Actually, she said, Park! Fun, more times? But that means the same thing.

We didnt get a chance to visit the other park in Windham, Wonderland Playground, on Estey and Cobbetts Pond roads, but Cheryl Haas, Windham Parks and Recreation director, assured us its a great place, too, with a large wooden play structure in a shady area. Well try that out on our next trip.

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