Splash Drive

Splash Drive

Stomping, shrieking and spraying are all approved activities at one of New Haven’s summer staples: the splash pad. The city installed its most popular pad at Lighthouse Point Park back in 2004, although it wasn’t the first, and since then more of the water features—more than a dozen—have landed around town.

At the Lighthouse Point splash pad, cool spray wafts from under a row of giant blue umbrellas (there to shade the grownups). Nearby, 10 elements along with numerous spray nozzles embedded in the floor send rain down on this wet playground. The most awesome is a four-bucket contraption that fills to the tipping point—you never know exactly when that might be—and dumps a torrent of water on screeching kids below. One of the best features at Lighthouse is the fact that when you get tired of splashing, you can run right across the beach and into Long Island Sound or dry off in the playground nearby, or maybe even ride the antique carousel.

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Up in Fair Haven, one of the city’s many smaller neighborhood splash pads—this one on Front Street near Williamson, otherwise known as Dover Beach—has a water view, too, of the Quinnipiac River. It was abandoned when I arrived, with telltale puddles indicating that kids had just been there. As it happened, more were on the way. Half a dozen showed up within five minutes and turned on the shower for a late-afternoon cooldown.

There are other neighborhood splash pads in the Hill, City Point, Amity, Wooster Square, Dwight, Fair Haven, Newhallville and Dixwell. But the granddaddy of New Haven splash pads is the Edgewood neighborhood’s Sundial Water Sprinkler, a concrete spray pool—an alternate term that better fits the bill—in Edgewood Park near the corner of Ella T. Grasso Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue. This impressive sculpture dates back to 1979, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

If you didn’t know its name, you might miss its second use. A little girl who was trying to get the retrofitted sensor to turn the sprinklers on one hot afternoon observed that it looks like a skate park. True enough. But this splash pad really is a giant sundial, with shallow, spiraling steps and a high-reaching arm. That arm uses the sun to cast a shadowed hour hand across one of the numbers carved in its curved concrete wall or on small pedestals arrayed at regular intervals around a circular concrete base, featuring a starburst pattern and a giant drain. A network of pipes and spray heads threads through the structure, which includes three large portals that invite a climb through them. Sadly, the pad is currently out of order.

In addition to New Haven’s own splash pads, a few more are a short drive away. Just over the Hamden town line, kids were enjoying the new splash pad at Villano Park on Mill Rock Road. Compact but playful, the pad boasts three tall green elements—one topped with a butterfly and one with a leaf—plus several shorter fountains for kids to run through. In addition to eight kids scampering through the showers, two young men dipped their heads into the spray, laughing as they cooled off. Also near city limits is a splash pad at East Haven’s Cosey Beach, just up the coastline from Lighthouse Point.

The pads have become more popular in recent years in part due to their simplicity. With no standing water, there’s virtually no worry of children drowning, and municipalities don’t need to hire lifeguards to tend them. They also require less maintenance and are less expensive to build than pools, though their cost is nothing to sneeze at. In 2018, when she was director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees, Rebecca Bombero said a modest pad such as the one at Dover Beach would cost about $100,000 to $125,000.

As for the joy a public splash pad brings to its community, you might say it’s priceless.

New Haven splash pads

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Photographed by Dan Mims. This updated story was originally published on July 31, 2018.

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