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Ascending to New Heights: Riverview Park Soars Above the Rest

Editor Stephen Kelly

The new pyramid climber in Riverview Park, Mesa, Ariz., can accommodate 250 kids at one time. It tops out at 49.3 feet tall, with a spread of 78-ft., 10 inches, making it the tallest playground pyramid climber in the world, according to Rob Lockhart, CCPI, CPSI, of Dynamo Industries, which fabricated the net climber and rope course in South Korea. Rob was in Korea for a month to make sure the design was right, then spent two and a half weeks in Mesa, Ariz., to oversee the net climber and rope course were properly installed. Dynamo's distributer, AZ Rec, did the installations. The net climber required not only 100 cubic yards (13 truck loads) of concrete for the footers, but subterranean 3.5-inch thick steel turnbuckles. The groundings, Lockhart muses, if tethered to a jumbo jet passenger plane, would keep it from budging.

Riverview Park in Mesa, Ariz., has been around for quite some time, going back to the days when the area was populated by almond and orange groves. Today, the park has housing developments where the fruit and nut trees used to be.

Mesa is in Maricopa County, a suburb about 20 miles east of Phoenix and home to Arizona State University. If you're not familiar with the city, you'll be surprised to learn Mesa is more populated (439,041) than such more familiar and long established urban centers like Minneapolis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa, Miami and Cleveland. The desert climate clearly attracts people. In fact, Mesa is only the third largest city in the state. Arizona, the 48th state admitted to the union, ranks 15th in state populations.

With such a bustling population, Mesa needs parks ... and shade. The average high summer temperatures range from 104 to 106! It cools off to 99 in September.

Just step, spin and hold on. The "rope courses" (Dynamo) hold four pendulum swing seats affixed at the bottom to keep them from swinging out too far. "We sourced these through a swing parts specialist in Germany, and normally these would be hung within some of the larger net climbers that we provide to clients in New Zealand or Australia," explains Robert Lockhart of Dynamo Playgrouds. "American clients don't want swings in their nets the same way, and we also have greater standards constraints."

Mesa Passes a Rec Bond Measure
In 2012, a Mesa Parks and Recreation Bond program passed to fund new parks and renovations. A little more than $54 million is going to new park and rec development, with 11 sites slated for development. Four locations are currently in planning, with construction to begin in 2015. The budget for those four is $7.2 million.

Mesa's Riverview Park has undergone a major renovation. Located at the northwest corner of Dobson and Rio Salado Parkway, the park has been transformed into a premier recreation destination. "The park exemplifies Mesa's commitment to promoting the benefits of parks and recreation," says Andrea Moore, the administrator for Mesa Park development and operations.

Greey Pickett, landscape architects, was the lead for the park design. The splash pad subconsultant was Cloward H2O. The construction lead was Hunt Construction, and the subcontractor was Pacific Aquascape. Medjool date palms surround the splashpad. The site turf is paspalum. The large plots were hydroseeded; the smaller areas were sodded and overseeded with rye in the fall.

A New Spring Home for the Cubbies
It all started with the Cubs, as in Chicago. The Cubbies of Major League Baseball decided the Riverview Park area was the perfect spot for the team's new $99 million Spring Training ballpark and facilities.

Springs training baseball and Arizona have been a tradition since 1947. Back then, only the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants made the pilgrimage. Today, 15 Major League teams train in the Phoenix metropolitan area to get ready for the grueling 162-game season. It's called the Cactus League, and it's only a short drive between ballparks for baseball aficionados.

The 300-foot glass fiber reinforced concrete rock-climbing wall fits snuggly into the park's hills. Given the average summer highs in Mesa, Ariz., are in triple figures, it was necessary for the installer, Integrated Design Solutions (IDS), to pour the concrete for the wall around midnight to allow it to cure properly. IDS also provided the 'fort ruins' and the custom concrete slide.

The Cub's spiffy new 15,000-seat baseball stadium is the largest in the Cactus League.

Of course you can't have a modern new spring training facility plopped in your midst without sprucing up the neighborhood.

The dish-like Biggo Swing is something of a flying carpet that transports up to four kids at a time.
Photo courtesy of Dynamo

We Need 'Spectacular'
Mesa Parks really wanted the new playground to stand out, to present kids with something special and spectacular, not just your commonplace playground. Feeling that what the playground needed was a tall net climber, Andrea Moore of Mesa Parks & Rec contacted Rob Lockhart, CCPI, CPS, of Dynamo Industries, a playground manufacturer out of Rockland, Ontario, Canada that specializes in net climbers.

Rob Lockhart relates many people believe net climbers, or what he calls pyramid nets, were invented in German, but says he's done his research and discovered the climbers were first developed in the U.S. in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The 60-foot long mesh "ropes course" is 10,000 sq. ft. of undulating, S-shaped climbing fun that the designers began calling the "green monster," although it turned out not to be that hue, except for stripping in the cabling. Some call it the Caterpillar, but whatever you call it, the designers think of it as the wave of the future in climbers. The 'UltraFlex' safety surfacing (FlexGround) was installed in two layers: a cushion layer of shredded, recycled tires bonded with urethane, with a half-inch-thick colorized EPDM rubber and urethane wear-course layer atop. Both layers were mixed on site and hand-troweled into place. The base prep was Type II ABC aggregate compressed to a 95 percent compaction rate by vibrating compactors.
Photos courtesy of Dynamo

In talks with Mesa Parks, Lockhart explained a 38-ft. net climber had recently been installed in France. The reaction was, "Well, then we need to go higher." When Rob mentioned there were even taller pyramid net climbers in Germany, one 43-ft. tall, and another 47-ft. high, their reaction was, "Let's have the tallest pyramid net climber in the world."

And so it came to pass that Dynamo produced the 'DX-108 Genesis XXXL', which tops out at 49.3 feet, and has a spread of 78-ft., 10 inches. It can accommodate 250 5-12 year olds at the same time. Imagine.

The terms "net" or "rope" climber are not exactly accurate. We're talking major strength nylon cabling woven around 144 strands of galvanized steel. The woven aspect makes it easy on the hands, and the steel gives it the necessary tensile strength. In addition, the nylon has UV and flame retardant coatings. The UV coating keeps the sun from bleaching out the vibrant colors.

There are miles of accessible sidewalks, including a Medjool date palm-lined promenade, a "paseo" in these parts, that connects Riverview Park to Cubs Park, the new spring training home for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs reportedly invested $99 million for the new Spring Training ballpark, which is the largest stadium (seating for 15,000) in Major League Baseball's 'Cactus League.'

But Wait, There's More
The pyramid climber was just the beginning. Mesa Parks also need another piece of equipment or play elements to fill a large space in the playground, something closer to the ground and less intimidating than the soaring heights of the pyramid. A number of designs went back and forth between Dynamo, Mesa Parks and the design team, evolving into a 10,000 sq. ft., undulating, S-shaped, 60-ft. long "ropes course," which the designers began calling the "green monster," although it turned out not to be that hue, except for stripping in the cabling. Some call it the "Caterpillar," but whatever you call it, the designers think of it as the wave of the future in climbers.

Apart from the spectacular net climber and rope course, there are two basic play structures, one that's geared to the older kids (pictured), and one for the tots, both from Xccent. The shade structures are manufactured by Shade 'N Net of Phoenix. Zip-lines are among the popular new features changing the look of playgrounds. A recent blog compared zip-lines at nine Seattle playgrounds. This 70-ft long zip-line is from Xccent.

More Play Options
Not all the climbing on the playground is done via ropes. There's a 300-ft. glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) wall tucked into the hillside to give kids a different climbing experience. There are two traditional playground clusters with slides, one for ages 2-5, the other for the 6-12 group. Among the play pieces on site are 'Ball Pods', a climber that replicates the atomic design when different elements attach to one another; a circular 'Spinning Machine'; a balance-enhancing 'Surfy' stepper; a dish-like swing that accommodates up to four kids; and one of the hottest new additions to playgrounds: a 70-foot zip-line.

Water to Fish and Splash, with Amenities
Among the new amenities residents can now enjoy in Riverview Park is a reconfigured and larger fishing lake. The five-acre Riverview Lake draws urban anglers to visit the boardwalk or the fishing coves and cast a line. There is a splashpad with multiple water features--a must for this climate; a display fountain; shaded ramadas with tables; open play areas; large restrooms; an observation hill; and acres of green hills and landscaping.

The ropes these kids are holding and balancing on were not part of the original design, but became possible when it was necessary to affix extra support legs to the rope course frame for better stability. The need for extra support legs was discovered during setup testing at the factory in South Korea before certifying it ready for shipment and installation.

Trees and Shrubs
The landscape plantings of course were carefully selected to survive this arid, hot climate. The site trees are Mulga and Sweet acacia; Medjool date palms; Chitalpa; Sissoo; Fan-West, Tan-Tex and Shamel ash; Swan Hill olive; ironwood; blue and Brea palo verde; Chinese pistache; honey and thornless mesquite; purple-leaf plum; Bradford pear; southern live oak; Cathedral oak; alee and true green elm. Shrubs include oleander, acacia, cordea, red fairy dusters, hohoba, sage and honeysuckle.

Getting Around
There are miles of accessible sidewalks, including a convenient pedestrian path lined with Medjool date palms that connects to Cubs Park. The three miles of pathways support pedestrian flow throughout the park. The regional trail system feeds into the north end of the park, providing connections to neighboring communities and to retail. Riverview Park is a regional recreational attraction with multitudes of active and passive recreational opportunities for the whole family. It has been a magnet for community engagement and enjoyment. The unique combination of a spring training facility, park and retail complex have infused economic growth into west Mesa and increased business and home values.

Riverview Park reopened to the public on Saturday, January 25, 2014. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has touted the new Spring Training facility and Riverview Park as a major boon to Mesa's economic development. To quantify that, at least as far as the baseball part, FMR Associates of Tucson estimates the Cactus League directly delivers $422 million to the state.

Among the play pieces on site are the 'Ball Pods' (climber), the 'Spinning Machine' and the balance-enhancing climber 'Surfy', all from Lappset, a Finnish playground manufacturer.

Riverview Team
AZ Rec Design
Splashpad Subconsultant: Cloward H2O
Concrete Finishing
Splashpad Construction Lead: Hunt Construction
Sprinklers and Lines: Hunter
Integrated Design Solutions
Landscape Architect: Greey Pickett: Ryan Tietz, senior project manager
Landscape: ValleyCrest
Mesa Parks & Rec: Andrea Moore, Park Development and Operations Administrator
Splashpad: Pacific Aquascapes
Drip Lines & Controllers: Rainbird
Play Equipment/Structures/Surfacing
- Dynamo Playgrounds: Rob Lockhart, CCPI, CPSI
- Flexground: 'UltraFlex' safety surfacing
- Integrated Design Solutions: Ian Glas
- Lappset
- Shade 'N Net
- Xccent
Ground images: Jackie Mercandetti Photography
Hover Images: Luke Pierzina, Extreme Photographer

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October 17, 2019, 9:16 am PDT

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