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The Best Playgrounds in Westchester


Westchester has, as we well know, the best of everything. The best restaurants, best parks, best stores—not to mention taxes that no other region can boast of. So it only stands to reason that the area’s playgrounds, thanks in no small part to those hefty taxes, are among the finest in the country.

But what makes for a great playground is in the eyes of the beholder, and it certainly helps if that beholder’s eyes are level with, say, a swing, or the third step up to a slide. So, after an extensive canvassing of parents for a list of the region’s best playgrounds, we conscripted a panel of experts—a half dozen native sons and daughters, ages 4 to 8—to climb all over the swings, slides, and spinny chairs and share their thoughts. They are sibs Charlotte and Gavin (Hawthorne), Conor and Eoin (Valhalla), and Leo and Lulu (Mamaroneck). Here’s their take.

Most Fun: Roselle Park, Pleasantville
At first blush, Roselle Park’s playground, tucked into a cozy neighborhood just west of the Saw Mill River Parkway, may not blow you away. The facilities are above average: a pair of corkscrew swirly slides, a new play structure for preschoolers, a climbing ramp made of tires, wood chips underfoot providing a rustic (and safer-than-concrete) touch. But it’s the sandbox that makes Roselle unique. Not only is it giant—around 40 feet long—but it holds 25 to 30 toy trucks that park-goers have donated over the years.
As any parent knows, the allure of Other People’s Toys inspires rabid jubilation in children. “I like everything, but I like the trucks the most,” declared 6-year-old Gavin.

Artiest: Westchester’s Ridge Hill, Yonkers
Props to Ridge Hill planners for including a playground in their new shopping center (though, mind you, it could’ve been much larger). Sculptor Tom Otterness designed the centerpiece of Big Girl Playground—a giant bronze objet d’art that looks like a cross between a kid, a Martian, and a bug. The arms serve as slides, while the legs are balance beams, and kids can climb a ladder to enter the creature’s head. “It’s like a flying saucer,” gushed Conor, 4. “You get to see everything when you’re at the top.”

Most Diverse: Kensico Dam Plaza, Valhalla
Kensico Dam Plaza is the center point of the county, and a backyard shared by all—for alfresco films, concerts, and its top-flight playground. Thanks to its rubbery floor, kids bring their Big Wheels and bikes, rolling around the playground like a Heck’s Angels gang. There’s a faux rock-climbing wall; a hidden “dinosaur fossil” that Gavin, who’s been hanging out at Kensico since he was a newborn, was happy to show his friends (“Over here!” he yelled, leading the way); a separate play structure for toddlers (“I’m going on the swirly slide!” reported 4-year-old Charlotte); and, of course, the giant dam wall as a backdrop. “Can we climb it?” asked Charlotte. We pretty much could; now that the road between the wall and the reservoir is once again open to pedestrians, we finished our visit with a scenic stroll on top of the wall.

Best Theme: Harbor Island Park, Mamaroneck
With water views in two directions, it only makes sense that Mamaroneck’s Harbor Island Park playground deploys a nautical theme—from the pirate ship, full of great places to hide (“It’s an escape door!” said Leo, as he made his way down a hatch made of tires), to the lighthouse (“We can go in here in case it rains,” said Gavin of the covered space). Our panelists loved the rope sculpture—a one-of-a-kind octagonal spider web—the swaying bridge that leads to it, and what local gal Lulu, 8, calls the “pizza swings” (a pair of pizza-pan-like saucer swings). “We go really high,” she said. “My dad pushes us really hard, and it’s really fun.”
For a mellower pastime, the kids can unwind by watching people fish nearby, or snack up at the beloved Chef Johnson’s Johnson Truck in the parking lot.

Best Stuff: Bruce Park, Greenwich, CT
Okay, okay—so it’s not Westchester. But a visit to Bruce Park is just a quick hop over the state border. Dinosaurs dominate this woodsy and vast playground: giant bones that double as tunnels, fossils buried in the sandbox. Other popular facets are the rope bridge (“It’s a hammock!” noted boy-of-leisure Gavin), a hand-cranked, two-person train trolley (“We’re coming into the station!” announced conductor Leo), a slide built into a hill (“You go whoosh!” said Charlotte), and inverted thimbles that our gang dubbed “spinny chairs”—in which they sat and spun like tiny Tasmanian Devils. “You go super-fast,” said Leo. The biggest draw in a playground packed with them, however, was the dino sandbox. “I found a big T. rex head,” said Leo proudly.

Most Scenic: Gedney Park, Chappaqua
Picturesque hills, hiking trails, a pond, and even a little covered bridge taking you over a creek and into the playground—Gedney Park’s setting can’t be beat. There’s a sandbox, playhouse, wobbly bridge, and hideouts—both man-made and natural—everywhere.
Maybe it’s the peaceful setting, but kids just seemed friendlier at Gedney. “Hey—wanna play with me?” a little girl asked Charlotte as soon as we got there, and off they went to a cluster of bushes, next to the rock-ledge steps that provided a pretty awesome clubhouse. The friendliness seemed to rub off on our panelists. “Is that your house?” Gavin asked the girls in their leafy new home. “It’s all of our house!” answered Charlotte.