Atop the world (OK, atop the small hill)

Jan 3 • Bruce UncorkedNo Comments on Atop the world (OK, atop the small hill)

There was no better place to be last night than on top of the world, perched at the summit overlooking the landscape and laughing children below.

Well, maybe I wasn’t at the top of Mount Everest and maybe I wasn’t even at the tallest man-made point in Chatham, as there are many apartment buildings in town that would tower over the hill in Kingston Park. But I was at the pinnacle of outdoor winter fun Wednesday as the sun set.

I took our daughter and her best bud to the tobogganing hill, our first visit since the park reopened in 2011. We’d have gone last winter, but when little snow falls, there isn’t much tobogganing to be had.

Since we were out of town this year when the first big storm of the season hit, we ran into another problem this year — finding a sled. We went looking Wednesday afternoon and came up short. The shelves at Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart had been picked clean — except if you wanted to drop $140 for a three-ski sled with a steering wheel (a device a nine-year-old boy advised was a piece of crap anyway).

So we went to pick up my kid’s buddy and told her the bad news. But her parents were much smarter than we were, having purchased sleds in the past, and they offered them up for use.

Next stop, Kingston Park.

When we arrived just before 5 p.m, as the day was slowly giving way to night, there were perhaps four other cars in the parking lot and only a handful of people using the hill. The girls had their pick of the runs and merrily slid down every option.

As for me, well, I stood and took it all in.

While the hill is at most a third as tall as the one I enjoyed as a kid in northern Quebec, it certainly serves a sweet purpose here in Chatham. In a part of the country that’s flatter than the prairies, it is wonderful for kids to have somewhere to go in town to experience one of the greatest outdoor activities for children in the winter — sledding.

It’s inexpensive, as many sleds or snow carpets cost less than $10. Kids get to experience the thrill of speed, while in actuality spending most of their time getting great exercise — walking or running uphill.

The girls took advantage of the cool night and fast snow. And I switched over to kid time and enjoyed the show.

We spent more than 90 minutes on the hill and saw the numbers swell to more than two-dozen by about 5:30 p.m. But by just after 6 p.m., the numbers dwindled again.

Through it all, the girls found various bumps and jumps to add to their thrill rides. They also almost found a few trees.

That was one thing I noticed around the hill. The designers planted some of the trees in the park way too close to the bottom of the hill. I saw several kids hit the saplings, fortunately with no damage to either the kids or the trees.

One light standard near the wooden-and-earth stairs built into one side of the hill is wrapped in padding and has two tires around its base. As the trees grow, more efforts such as this will have to be done to prevent serious injury.

Then again, it seemed some of the kids hoped for a few bumps and bruises, as a number of the boys took to sledding down the stairs. How to greatly shorten the life of your sled.

At the top of the hill, the only place for an observer to sit is along a low concrete wall. If you plan to do so for an extended period of time, I’d recommend bringing a piece of cardboard as insulation. The concrete is a conduit for the cold. Sit there unprotected long enough, and the chill will run right through you.

I had on a warm winter coat, scarf and toque, but 15 minutes sitting on the wall had me up and walking around to stay warm. Lesson learned.

I couldn’t help thinking that the top of the hill would be a great place for a couple of park benches. They’d get use all year long, considering you get an excellent view of the park from up there.

Still, the hill is a special place at this time of the year, even if there are a few tweaks that could be made to improve it.

All too soon, it was time to go and get a mug of hot chocolate. The girls could have stayed longer, but there was no complaining as the cups of cocoa beckoned.

Weather and retail outlet restocking permitting, we’ll be back to the park repeatedly this winter.

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