NORTHERN MANHATTAN — As the summer heats up, parents across the city are searching for ways to keep their children cool.
Fortunately, city parks offer spray showers and sprinklers for little ones to play in.
Washington Heights and Inwood in particular have several options, each with unique designs, patrons and age groups. And while most sprinklers can get crowded, there are a few hidden gems that allow parents to cool their little ones off without having to fight through a crowd.
Located in George Washington Bridge Park on West 180th Street and Cabrini Boulevard, the Dolphin Playground is a hidden gem for residents of Washington Heights and Hudson Heights. Dolphin gets its name from the dolphin-shaped spray shower that children play in. The playground, which is operated by neighborhood volunteers, is only open from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and is strictly for children ages 2 to 5. If your child falls into the age range, however, then you get access to a playground that parents laud for its small size, shaded seating, and that provides toys and crayons for children.
"This is the best playground for children under 5 years old," said resident Maggie Horkey, who added that it can get a very crowded at around 4:30 p.m. when parents get off work.
Ann Loftus Playground
Located between Riverside Drive and Broadway in the northernmost section of Fort Tryon Park, the Ann Loftus playground sprinklers are popular, drawing crowds from all over Washington Heights and Inwood. The sprinklers, which spray water out from the ground, are located in the center of the playground and are surrounded by slides, swing sets and climbing areas.
Parents appreciate Loftus' large spray shower, but note that the park can become too crowded, especially on weekends. They also note the sprinklers can be overrun by teenagers looking to escape the heat.
"The morning hours, especially when school is in session, are fine," said Lauren Negron, "but come 2:00 to 3:00, everyone's here."
The much smaller Payson playground benefits from Ann Loftus' popularity. Payson, located in the southern edge of Inwood Hill Park on Payson Avenue and Dyckman Street, is a smaller, low key playground that parents say is great for younger kids and that doesn't get too crowded. Like Loftus, the spray shower in Payson is located in the center of the playground, with slides and climbing areas surrounding it.
"This is great playground because it's pretty contained, there's something for older kids and younger kids, and it's fairly safe," said Inwood resident Martha Alexander as she watched her 3-year-old daughter Rebecca run through the sprinkler.
Alexander noted that much of the seating in Payson was shaded — a big deal for parents.
J. Hood Wright Park
Lower Washington Heights doesn't have as many sprinklers as the northern end or Inwood, so the spray showers in J. Hood Wright Park are always in high demand. Parents say the park, which offers a view of the George Washington Bridge from its location on West 173rd Street and Fort Washington Avenue, offers great shade but is always crowded with children of varying age groups.
"After 4:00 p.m., you're going to see the crowds," said Wendy Cella, a resident who has two daughters. "And on weekends? Forget about it."
Just up the street from J. Hood Wright, Bennett Park's sprinklers are timed and shut off after a few minutes, forcing parents and children to push a button to turn the stream back on.
Instead of an actual spray shower, Bennett Park's sprinklers shoot water straight into the air in two lines.
The button can be a little confusing for first-time visitors, said Chanel Aguilera, who was visiting the park with her daughter Madison, 3.
"If you've never been here before and the water goes off you might get a little confused," she said.
Parents note that while Bennett can get crowded, it's usually only with younger children.
"This park is calmer," said Erin Tooley, who said she preferred the Bennett sprinklers to those at the nearby Javits playground. "At Javits, you have teens riding their bikes through."