LINCOLN PARK — Mistie Lucht's children have probably been to more parks over the past two years than all of their classmates combined.
For Lucht, a day to the park doesn't mean just one. She typically will knock out between nine and 12 parks to gather field notes for her ever growing database of more than 700.
About two years ago, she teamed up with a friend of a friend, who happened to enjoy developing web applications on the side, to create an iPhone app called Playground Pointers. The app is aimed at parents and caregivers whose kids might have grown sick of the neighborhood swings.
“We would literally explore and talk to other moms and say 'Where would you go to play?'" Lucht said. "I would take notes on my phone for where to go. I just started going to playgrounds."
When Lucht was pregnant with her third child, who is now about a year old, she began her journey with the Lincoln Park parks, visiting such spots as Oz Park, Adams Playground and Jonquil Playlot. That quest has now moved on to the ring of the Chicago suburbs, but could eventually spread nationwide with the help of user-generated reviews, according to developer Chris Cooper.
Lucht has become an expert on parks, and each listing in the app contains photos, a cleanliness rating, information about parking, picnic areas, how many swings, tire swings and slides each park has, the type of surface and if there are any sports courts available.
"When someone says, 'I have an 8-year-old boy. Where should I go?' I can easily rattle off the best one in their area," she said.
Lucht also writes personal notes for each park. In a note for her favorite park in the city, Mary Bartleme Playground in the West Loop, she noted the park is not shaded and can get "very hot," but "the climbing is something I have not seen anywhere else" in the city.
The most useful aspect of the app is the security it can give parents who are willing to make the trek to an unfamiliar city neighborhood to check out a park and make a day of it.
"It's either a delightful surprise or like ehhh. ... I'm not afraid to say that," Lucht said. "Some city parks, even the nicest, newest ones, are plagued by litter and graffiti and broken swings."
The app also lists the "perfect playground days," with family friendly restaurants and museums nearby for goers who might not be familiar with a surrounding area. In all, there are some 3,500 photos.
Playground Pointers, which costs $1.99, has been available in the iTunes App Store since May 2012, and so far about 2,000 people have downloaded it. Cooper and Lucht hope to make a major push this spring with an updated version of the app that includes hundreds more parks than were available last summer.
"Whenever I talk to friends who live in the city who have kids, they get excited about the idea. They want to see [the app] and they go out and buy it," Cooper said. "It's definitely got a lot more information than you are going to find on the Chicago Park District site."
Cooper has four kids of his own and said he hopes the app lets parents recreate memories that they once had as children of visiting playgrounds.
"I remember when I was a kid, my mother would put my brother and myself in the car and say lets find a playground," he said. "We would get out and play for a few hours, get back in the car and find another."