Thrifty Thurston Discovers Hidden Fun At Olympia’s Lions Park

spring break camp olympia wa
Dario Morbello of Olympia spies a lion inside a tunnel at Lions Park. Photo by Jennifer Crain.


By Jennifer Crain

Over the holiday break my kids and I met up with friends one late afternoon at Traditions Café. Once we were warmed by cups of cocoa and soup we pulled our hoods up and headed across the street, looking to enjoy a little bit of the outdoors despite the early winter snap in the air.

The writer’s son, Cyrus (left) with two Olympia friends, Owen Tudor and Dario Morbello. The three scouted for lions before exploring the park grounds. Photo by Jennifer Crain.

The kids played and explored for over forty minutes in the grass and along the gravel path at the edge of Capitol Lake. It was dark by the time we made it back to the car. The kids were ruddy-cheeked and quiet on the ride home.

I remembered then that short stints outside in winter are a must. We have to head for the parks even when puddles or snow drifts cover the grass. Otherwise we face a months-long sabbatical from fresh air, vitamin D and open space.

As great as open swim times or taekwondo lessons may be, without winter visits to parks or a periodic rainy slosh on a nature trail, we temporarily abdicate not only our place in the natural world but the opportunity for a perspective check: we hibernate in buildings that are situated on the land. That’s something we can forget when we’re not in contact with vegetation, mist, rocks and sticks.

In this spirit, I drove my kids to Lions Park last week. Eastsiders celebrated a grand re-opening of the park in October of 2010 after new playground equipment was installed. But the city has continued to improve it since then, completing renovations this fall with the addition of a new shelter, a new roof over the restrooms and a paved, accessible path that encircles the park.

The most whimsical of the new additions is a park-wide game that challenges visitors to find 11 hidden “lions” placed around the 3.7 acres of park grounds. My son found the first one right away (hint: the one on the sign counts) then scoped out a few more in the playground area before taking off on an expedition with two other kindergartners.

The lion images play on the name of the park, which is so named for The Olympia Lions Service Club, the city’s partner in the creation of the space in 1946. The game is a clever way to engage children and promote exploration while fulfilling a goal of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation: that “each neighborhood park be a unique experience for the park user.”

This custom bike rack is one of eleven lions in Lions Park. The lion images are part of a game and make the park a unique experience for visitors. Photo by Jennifer Crain.

Jonathon Turlove, Associate Planner with Olympia Parks, created the game. Extra funds from the playground replacement project allowed Turlove to follow his imagination. He chased down figurines, tiles and statues in the likenesses of lions and even ordered a custom bike rack.

“When I was coordinating the project to replace the playground equipment a couple of years ago, I thought since the park was called ‘Lions’ park that it would be fun to incorporate lions into the park in some way,” Turlove says. “So when I bought the playground equipment, I had the supplier put a couple of lions’ faces in some of the concrete rocks/logs that we installed. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to take this another step and have quite a few lions in the park?”

He was right. It is fun. While my son ran with his friends, Clio, a friend of my daughter’s, gave me a tour of the ones they scouted out before we arrived, showing off her finds by posing with them and smiling for the camera.

Not all the lions are in obvious places but if visitors get stuck, an adult can call a number on the sign for direction (360-570-3814) or go to the park’s page on the city’s website for a full list of locations and photos of each lion.

Renovations in Lions park, named for the service club that helped create the space in 1946, were completed in the fall. Improvements include a scavenger hunt for 11 lions placed around the park grounds. Photo by Jennifer Crain.

But I’m going to try not to cheat. At least not yet. By my count, we found about half of them while we were there. Finding the remaining lions will be the perfect excuse to make more trips to the park before the end of winter.

City of Olympia: Lions Park

800 Wilson Street SE

All Olympia parks open at dawn and close at dusk.

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