Mulch ado about playgrounds

Mulch ado about playgrounds

Dear Ace: I have three young children and we have hit every playground in the area. When I was young, instead of playgrounds, we had swings and see-saws. Where have all the see- saws gone? Have there been too many head injuries or what?—Noah Fun

Noah: When Ace was young (well, younger), oh how he loved dragging his best friend out to the playground and see-sawing. His best friend would climb on and wait patiently as Ace slung one leg over and hoisted himself onto the board. Of course, at that point, Ace was still carrying most (read: all) of his baby fat, which accounted for the cartoon-like plummeting of the see-saw to the ground as soon as Ace climbed on. But, that brief “whooshing” of the see-saw was enough to thrill Ace for a lifetime. Or at least until lunch.

Ace caught up with Brian Daly, the assistant director of Parks and Recreation to see where Charlottesville’s hiding the see-saws. Brian said that, in fact, there are see-saws in the area. Specifically, a three-child see-saw at the renovated McGuffey Park which Brian says is “really cool.”

Of course, Brian also said that there aren’t many see-saws around anymore because, quite frankly, kids don’t think they’re that fun. Playground activities these days are geared more toward climbing and physical activity—things that combat childhood obesity. Also, educational activities—like talking into tubes that run the length of the playground to communicate with children on the other side—are popular.

As for a correlation between head injuries caused by see-saws and their mysterious disappearance from the playground scene, Brian couldn’t definitively say. He did confirm that there have been many severe injuries and deaths as a result of unsafe playgrounds, but in the 1990s, massive changes were made to playground safety regulations. For instance, you’ll no longer see a swingset attached to a climbing tower structure. “A child will come down the slide, run in front of a child on the swings and get hit by the swing,” Brian told Ace.

Each play unit has a “safety zone” associated with it. The regulations even account for such bizarre (yet, Ace realizes, necessary) factors as “depth of wood carpet mulch.” In case you’re wondering, the depth of the mulch is determined by the height of the structure that stands on it and how much shock absorption it would require if, say, a chubby future investigative reporter were to fall from the top. Ace didn’t have to ask Brian the answer to that one; he already knew it was a lot. 

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 18 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to

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