- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

The platform was a pirate ship. Now it is a rocket to the moon. In a few minutes, it will be Tarzan's treehouse.

Really, it is just part of the play area at Cabin John Regional Park in Bethesda. But don't tell that to the children enjoying the platform, swings and huge slides on a recent weekday morning.

The playground is a big draw at the 500-acre park operated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Montgomery County. The primary play area takes up a good part of a hillside, making for many levels to explore. The wooden structures, mazes, swinging rings and rope bridges make the play area a popular spot for children who might have otherwise outgrown a trip to the playground.

"We come here a lot," says Betsy Bizot of Bethesda, mother of two girls, ages 9 and 8. "I think this is the best playground in the area. There are so many different things to do here. And it is shaded. That might not matter to my kids, but I like it."

The play and nearby picnic areas are almost completely shaded, so even on the hottest summer day there are usually a selection of families, day camp groups and nannies with their charges. Another bonus is the presence of real bathroom facilities, which are often absent at playgrounds.

Across from the hillside play structure are smaller climbing activities and slides for toddlers. Some of the original play structures from the park's opening in the 1960s also have been preserved. Seeing the metal Sputnik-type rocket will no doubt bring back childhood memories for baby-boomer parents.

Close to the play area is the park's miniature train ride, which runs daily on the half-hour through September, and then on an hourly weekend schedule until the end of October.

The train features a replica of an 1863 C.P. Huntington Engine and five open-air passenger cars. It takes children and adults on a 10-minute, two-mile loop through the park's woods. On a busy summer day, about 600 riders will take the train ride, train station manager Ed Noyes says.

"For the most part, people behave," he says.

The Locust Grove Nature Center is on the other side of the park. The center is devoted primarily to nature programs for children and adults, but walk-in visitors can get a look at live snakes (in glass cages, of course), different plants indigenous to the area and nature-themed picture books. The nature center also is a good starting point for walks on the park's meadow and nature trails.

Some of the upcoming events at Locust Grove include Nature Tots story time featuring Eric Carle's "The Very Quiet Cricket," Botany 101 for adults, guided trail tours, sundown hikes and stream exploration.

"The programs are usually related to the season," facility manager aide Gloria Victor-Dorr says. "We have programs for children, families and adults. Many of the programs concentrate on local wildlife, but we also do trips on the cultural history of the area."

A wide array of sports activities at Cabin John can be found on the same side of the park as Locust Grove. Cabin John is home to an indoor ice-skating rink and six indoor tennis courts. The park also features lighted baseball and softball fields, including the new Shirley Povich Stadium. On a recent morning, youth baseball teams from up and down the East Coast enjoyed the fields as part of a tournament.

The park also offers outdoor tennis courts, a volleyball court, handball courts and several soccer fields.

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