at a glance
Mom Rating: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ (5/5)
Kid Rating: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ (5/5)
Admission: $1/person, child or adult
Our Total Trip Cost: $5
Parking: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ (5/5)
Cleanliness: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ (4/5)
Safety: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ (4/5)
Sponsored Post: No
Yesterday was a lazy Saturday. The kids’ friends were all sleeping late, so my crew were lounging around the house with books and games. After a brief outing Donald dreamed up (he hates sitting still), we decided to start knocking things out of the To-Do 2012 list. We settled on the first item, the Quarry Splash Pad at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park in Leander, TX.
Getting ready for an outing like this requires a strength of will and courage that I don’t think I’ll ever fully develop. Yesterday we had the usual, “Can ___ go with us?” pleas, and then several costume changes as the children were sent back upstairs a few times to get on the bathing suit; no, just the bathing suit with no underwear; please find some shorts to wear over the bathing suit; no, I said shorts OVER the bathing suit not under it like underwear; no, I said NO underwear; why do you have socks on; what in blazes are you doing wearing a turtleneck; that’s your brother’s bathing suit and you’re a girl; oh my God, I’m giving you all up for adoption.
And that’s just the kids. Notice how I haven’t said what was required to get my own self bathing suit-ready for the outing. I won’t go into details, but I will say this: I was cursing the Italian in my blood, mostly while it flowed out from the various razor wounds. (NB — Now accepting sponsorship from Clubman Styptic Pencil. CALL ME.)
Reviews of the splash pad recommended footwear such as water shoes or flip-flops. (Each of us wore one or the other, which would later turn out to be overkill on a day that only topped 93°F.)
I was ready to run away from home by the time we had everything loaded into the car. Once the bags were in, I put on my “I Dance While I Do Housework” playlist and we boogied down for the 40-minute drive to the splash pad.
The Quarry Splash Pad is at the rear of the park, past several beautiful and well-kept ball fields. Despite the meandering drive, it was easy to find — a nice surprise. There was adequate signage, which I think is helpful for those who wish to rent one of the party pavilions at the splash pad. If your family is anything like mine, they want turn-by-turn directions given to them. The signs definitely helped.
Parking was very easy, another plus. As you know, unloading several children plus all the required bags and getting them up to an entrance gate can be frustrating. I was happy to discover a parking spot right in front of the gate, but even the spots furthest away aren’t outlandishly far. I’m (kind of) ashamed to admit that in years past there were places we’d gone where I took one look at the parking lot and proclaimed a sudden need for slushies and a playscape, skipping our original destination because I didn’t want to deal with the parking lot. But the kids are older now, out of the bolting toddler stage, and the lot has clear walkways that are easily accessible. Out of the van we tumbled, bags on shoulders and flip-flops flapping.
A short walk over a pretty little bridge later, we were at the admissions pay center. Admission is $1 per person, child and adult, and seems to be modeled somewhat on the honor system. There didn’t appear to be a staff member ensuring you paid at the ATM-like machine, but I wouldn’t risk blowing the fee if I were you, mostly because it’s bad karma and also the machine is kind of fun to play with. I put in a $20, selected “party of five” (and yes, I hummed the show’s theme song), and it spat out my change and a receipt (do we get a tax write-off for this?). Easy peasy, and fast enough that even if you’re wrangling a kid who wants to run down to the water immediately, you won’t have to wrestle him to the ground first.
I stepped back to take a photo of the machine, and a cute 20-something staff member popped his head around the corner of the concessionary to joke that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the equipment. If my husband and children hadn’t been there, I’d have felt more free to reply than I did. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. I regret not taking his picture as well, though. You know, in the pursuit of journalistic thoroughness or whatever.
Instead of grass, the areas around the pad are covered in a nice astroturf surface. This turf holds a bit of heat, so take a picnic blanket with you to lounge on. The park rules state you cannot use lawn chairs with individual legs, but sand chairs with inflatable bottoms are permitted. I don’t recall seeing anybody using chairs at all; towels and blankets seemed to be the preferred seating choice. Large limestone blocks edged much of the turf area, and I often sat along these as I went down into the splash zone with the kids. There is shade along many of the sides, and with the sensible precaution of sunscreen, parents can be quite comfortable there while watching their children.
We spread out a thick picnic blanket, put sunscreen on everybody, then let them loose. Over the course of the next two hours, the kids would circle back to get a snack or drink from the bag. There are several picnic tables scattered throughout the entire splash pad area, and a few of them were still empty when we arrived there at 3:00. There is additional table-style seating in the various shaded pavilions as well, but all of those were filled with parties during our visit.
By now, I’m very tired of primary-colored play equipment. I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life sitting on benches and waiting for my darlings to pass out from exhaustion at parks, and I have started wearing sunglasses even in the winter to cut the glare of the brightly painted features.
I am happy to report that Quarry Splash Pad has no such nonsense. There wasn’t even overly loud piped-in music, as there so often is in these places. I can be very sensitive to noise, and parenting has done nothing to help that. Even with screaming children and water jets, adults could easily carry on a conversation without shouting themselves hoarse.
In the left of this photo, you’ll see a patch of green. That’s where our blanket sat, and it was probably the best spot in the park. I could see everything but the sand pit (more on that in a moment), so I spent most of my time lounging there and chatting with Donald or whichever kid had come in for a landing and few Funyuns.
There was a lot of open space, both in the water and out. There were perhaps 100 people there when we first arrived, and the numbers crept up to 150 or more by the time we left. However, never once was there a feeling of crowding. Adults were respectful of blankets and seating, and most of the ones we saw helped steer their children around the same. My overall impressions of the landscape design was one of natural beauty and openness, which I really appreciated. I never would have imagined I could end an outing like this saying I felt relaxed, but it’s true.
Speaking of space: there were only two places where crowding occurred, and when you consider the number of children there, this was natural. The water cannons (center of the photo) and the waterfall (off to the right side and inactive at the point the photo was taken) had children clustered around them, but nothing appeared to be out of hand. I didn’t feel compelled to body-check anybody for crushing my two smaller children. How novel!
food and drink
There is a concession stand at the entrance, but we didn’t make use of it. The prices seemed reasonable, and there were some choices there I wouldn’t have minded my children having. Again, this is not typical of our experiences out. We took an insulated bag filled with cans of cold ginger ale and sparkling water, paired with some bags of chip-like snacks (a thrill in itself since we rarely buy them).
The Yelp reviews for Quarry Splash Pad were less than kind about the bathrooms, but I didn’t see much of a problem with them except that they were covered in water and sand. I’m not sure why anybody would go to a public pool and play area filled with children (over half of them in swim diapers) and expect sterile surfaces. My standards must be pretty low. As long as there’s not a snake in the toilet or we aren’t in the human equivalent of a catbox, I don’t much care. It’s not like we’re in there for a tea party.
Three water cannons were to the left of the main splash pad, and they were fashioned to have a range only as far as one another. If a child attempted to turn the cannon around to spray others, it promptly ceased flowing. This was especially nice, as you must skirt this area to go to the water slide and the toddler water zone. If you walk to the toddler zone, be sure to steer your little one away from this, as the cannons could potentially knock one of the bitty ones down. There were a handful of limestone chunks in the middle of this area as well, so my advice is to just pass the cannon zone entirely by walking along the perimeter of it.
Just beyond the cannon area was a ramp up to the cement slide. I wasn’t sure at first how this was going to work, but it turns out the slide itself is coated in slick pool paint and there are small water jets on either side to make sliding easy. The landing area was paved in rubber cement, although I’ll caution you there is a limestone retaining wall at one side that could cause a head-bonk if your child comes down too fast or at a crazy angle. If your small child isn’t physically able to control his slide, it might be good to seat yourself at the bottom with your legs acting as a fleshy bumper as a guard against danger. The larger children came down quickly, but they were overall respectful of the littler ones exiting the slide at the bottom. The larger kids didn’t seem to have issues with the retaining wall at the bottom at all.
Downslope of the slide, the toddler area had weak jets and a walkway that featured dancing fountains, the small jets that arc over the walkway in a random pattern. I saw many toddlers there with their parents positioned on the walls nearby. It seemed the larger kids couldn’t be bothered with this area, a relief to those of us who have had to deal with our babies getting trampled at play areas in the past. A party pavilion was at the end of the course, and I saw a few adults from the pavilion come down to speak to larger children in that area who were acting wild. I’m not sure if those larger kids were with the party or not, but it seemed to me that every adult there was engaged in ensuring the safety of all the children, not just the ones they were visiting the splash pad with.
To the right of the main splash pad, you walked under the entrance bridge. The surface in this area is rubber pavement, and it could be a little slick. Two 5′ climbing wall features were set in alcoves on either end of the overpass, a nice little break in pace. I saw many parents helping their children navigate the manufactured climbing rocks bolted into the sides. It might be tough for a toddler to manage there, and it would be too easy for a 10-year old, but the 4-9 year olds looked like they were having a blast.On the other side of the bridge/climbing wall area is the sand pit. A shade awning spans about half of it, and there are a shower and random ground jets for rinsing off afterward. This was a nice place for kids to dig, build, and generally mess about for a rest break.
Exercise caution when walking through. As a rule, running is a very bad idea at the entire park, as there are children darting in and out of fountains and closing their eyes as they do it. I saw two collisions (Jasper was one of them), but no injuries while there.
Footwear had been recommended in previous reviews because of the surface heat. This didn’t seem to apply while we were there, but when the Texas summer hits us in full, I can see how it would be helpful. Flip-flops are allowed, but if your kid is a runner, you should opt for more secure footwear such as water shoes or lace-up canvas tennis shoes.
Limestone blocks are used for retaining walls and small visual features. Because of this, and the unsure footing one may experience in the more flooded areas, running should be discouraged as often as you see it.
I almost never say this, but I truly look forward to our next visit to Quarry Splash Pad. We were there for almost two hours, just long enough for everyone to get their fill of playing without being pushed to the point of exhaustion. Other adults helped keep the children in check, the spaces were open and easy to navigate, and the landscaping is very pretty. It was a relaxing afternoon for the entire family, and we all enjoyed our time there.