Ever since I started asking everyone I meet if they have a favorite park in Tucson half of the time I get an assortment of suggestions and the other half of the time the answer is Ft. Lowell Park. We went there on Saturday and I get it. There is something for absolutely everybody at this park, and we had a day that neither of us will ever forget.
We don't usually go to new parks on Saturdays because the weekends always seem to be too busy, so our experience at Ft. Lowell park had a different flavor than our more mellow weekday visits. We pulled into a very large and very full parking lot, loud dance music and hundreds of little leaugers and their families. There were concession stands, rows of lawn chairs and an announcer over a loud speaker hyping the crowd. As we played the playground (which consisted of two seperate play zones, one of which was the same as Tahoe and La Madera, the other was reminicent of Conner Park) we got to listen to kid friendly pop music and then got a special treat. Hundreds of red, white and blue balloons flew into the sky for the start of the tournament. Captain Awesome was blown away. He still brings it up all the time.
When we ventured away from the playground, through the parking lot, off to discover the greener parts of the park, the Captain scored his own red balloon. He LOVED his balloon, they laughed and played together for a good 20 minutes, until there came another magical moment. He wanted to let it go into the sky so that it could "be with it's family". I was reluctant. I triple checked that he understood that once he let it go, it was gone forever. He was insistent So on the count of 3 away it went and it was wonderful. He gasped for joy and then proudly stated, "Look, I'm not crying!" and off we went to find turtles, dozens and dozens of turtles, big turtles and itty-bitty baby turtles.
Some kids were building rafts for the turtles to sun bathe on. A couple of older girls even let Captain Awesome be their official leaf carrier from one side of the pond to the other. I asked one of them if this was her favorite park and she said yes because she had never seen a pond with so many turtles and because she was part of Ft. Lowell Soccer so she got to play there a lot. While the kids played I read a little about Ft. Lowell Park and it's role as an "Urban Wildlife Sanctuary", pretty impressive stuff. There was a portion of the pond's edge that was fenced off and contained structures made with sticks and hay, homes for the birds and turtles. It was a such a simple, generous gesture, saving this little corner of the pond for just the wildlife, and for me, it was the highlight of the park.
That's not to say there weren't plenty of other really great features to vie for our attention. The other biggie was the museum and the crumbling structures of the original fort (in use from 1873-1891). At the historical museum we were greeted warmly by a troop of people dressed in period costume. They invited us in and gave us a guided tour, complete with a history lesson about Dr. Reed and an interactive table of artifacts that they very graciously let Captain Awesome thoroughly mess around with. The building that houses the museum is an exact replica of the original commander's quarters and outside museum they have a section where kids can find their own pottery shard artifacts. They also had a soldier's tent set up, and we got a lesson about hard tack from a man dressed in full uniform. We even got to try a piece that was "fresh" a.k.a. 3 months old.
After chatting with the museum folk for a while I also learned that they are half way through a ten year plan to expand the park east across Craycroft, to incorporate and rehabilitate some more original fort structures. I found some more information and a map of the project online and it is pretty massive. It was inspiring to see Tucsonians involved, excited and actively participating in celebrating the history and culture of our city. Ft. Lowell park is definitely an epicenter of family focused, community activity, especially on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in April.