- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

It could have been the steel rocket ship. Or maybe the Cinderella coach that bounces as if pulled by a team of white horses. Whatever the source of the excitement, it prompted my 5-year-old daughter to dub the playground at Cabin John Regional Park in Rockville "the funnest place ever."

A best-kept secret for families, Montgomery County's Cabin John park also offers picnic areas, biking and hiking paths, rides on a miniature train, athletic areas, campgrounds and a nature center. The wooded grounds are a short drive from Montgomery Mall, minutes from Interstate 270. And even on a recent gorgeous autumn Sunday afternoon, parking was plentiful and the place was busy but not crowded.

To families with young children, the playgrounds, covering more than an acre, are the main attraction. The Tiny Tots Playground is a treasure trove for the smaller set. There is a fort with binoculars at the top, a colorful modular village and little-bitty slides.

After the children climb, jump, slide and swing their way through those activities, on to the marvel: Action Playland.

A massive wooden structure, Action Playland features slides, tires and ladders. Two tubes one perhaps 40 feet long and one topping 60 feet are hair-raising slides for children older than 5. Young toddlers to preteens galloped about in a frenzy of excitement.

Jan and John Petrakes of Chevy Chase trailed their grandchildren as they zigzagged from ladder to slide to fort.

"We love this place," Mrs. Petrakes says. In fact, she says, they love it so much they are willing to travel the Beltway to bring their 3-year-old twin grandchildren Jack and Lainey from their home in Fairfax. "We used to take our children here years ago and now they're in their 30s."

Jim Czaban also visited the park as a child. The Vienna lawyer and his wife, Beth, a registered nurse, were out enjoying the train with their children Nicholas, 3, and Alyssa, 23 months.

"It's easy to come here for a quick picnic or to ride the train," Mr. Czaban says. "You don't have to spend the whole day."

The train, a replica of an 1863 C.P. Huntington engine, carries visitors on a 10-minute, two-mile ride through the park. Mr. Czaban says he uses the decades-old ride to motivate his son.

"If he is fussing around the house, we'll ask him if he wants to go ride the train," and he shapes up quickly, Mr. Czaban says.

Unfortunately, children weren't the only small creatures buzzing around Cabin John park. Bees love the place, too. One family was hosting a child's birthday party within the playground area. The bees were swarming the food table so persistently that party guests were afraid to approach it.

The bugs swirled around children's legs as they climbed and jumped on the playground equipment. Some landed on visitors before being swatted away in alarm. One park-goer reported that her 4-year-old daughter had been stung earlier in the day and that an adult in her group had been stung as well.

It's the time of year, says park manager Brent Conner. "Beginning around September, the bees get really aggressive and will sting unprovoked," he says. "We don't see many until May or June, and then once they show up, they stay around until after the first couple of frosts" usually sometime in October.

"About the only thing we can do is eradicate the nests when we find them," he says. That is good news for park-goers and bad news for bees.

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