The newly built staircase stands ready for the pitter-patter of feet. The hillside awaits transformation into a slippery slope. The hollowed mud pit languishes mud-less. The just-constructed forts remain vacant.

After a two-year COVID hiatus, Adventure Playground was slated to reopen this summer at Central Park in Huntington Beach. Although perhaps not better than ever — with its heyday, arguably, five decades ago — the renovated, summertime playground promised to be its best in years.

But now Adventure Playground will have to cool its heels for at least another year. Due to California’s drought crisis, the city decided this was not the time to unveil a park featuring water, water everywhere.

“The park’s most attractive amenities are the lagoon, the rafting experience, and the mudslide,” said Chris Cole, the community services manager for Huntington Beach. “We have to be mindful of water conservation, especially when we are asking residents to cut back on watering lawns.”

Adventure Playground is an unusual water park by today’s standards, Cole noted, because the water is not recycled. Rather, the two-foot lagoon — about the width of a large swimming pool — is filled and then continually topped off using garden hoses.

“The concrete base is 30 years old and has cracks in it,” Cole said. “We have not had the budget or the time to patch it. In a normal year, the leakage is not a problem.”

A sort of bare-bones version of Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island, Adventure Playground debuted in 1974 at the bottom of an abandoned sand quarry. As parents more or less watched from above, kids lost themselves in a magical world where they made their own fun — hammering together huts from wood scraps, slithering into the giant mud pit, swinging on a rope, and paddling slipshod rafts until they sank.

Several years later, Adventure Playground relocated to an adjacent 1.5-acre parcel, not far from Huntington Beach Central Library. Remarkably, even as the term “helicopter parent” firmly alighted, the gritty park lived on — albeit, losing some of its rougher edges along the way, such as the kid-constructed shacks and the zip-line tire swing.

Also called “junk playgrounds,” adventure playgrounds became popular in Europe after World War II, later making their way to the U.S. Huntington Beach boasted one of the only authentic adventure playgrounds in California.

The city decided to use the coronavirus shutdown to fix up the aging playground. Thanks to a slew of volunteers and donors, the update cost a moderate $22,000.

Two dozen members of Huntington Beach Boy Scout Troop 274 erected the sturdy wooden staircase, packing each step with decomposed granite to provide traction. Other updates include three new forts, all set on stilts and hugging the same trees they embraced before. As much as possible, wood from previous structures was repurposed.

“It’s a big disappointment that we won’t be able to reopen this summer,” Cole said. “But the good news is that the craftsmanship is of such great quality that we will see the fruits of that labor of years to come.”

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