Tracey Quinn is a mom who can tell you how many days are in summer vacation, that "overwhelming, exhausting" long stretch of time when no school bells ring and her "three balls of energy" look to her for entertainment.
"This summer vacation was 75 days long; last summer lasted 83 days," she says.
So to ensure her sanity, the Safety Harbor homemaker tackled a rather ambitious project.
This summer and last, the 41-year-old mom piled Joshua, 10, Justin, 8, and Jared, 5, into her blue sport utility vehicle and they set out to explore Pinellas' playgrounds.
She blogged about her experiences (www.connect.kaboom.org/floridamom) on the KaBOOM! website, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to "saving play."
KaBOOM! officials liked the idea so much they urged others to take the Park-A-Day Summer Challenge, too.
In total, Quinn said they've visited 87 playgrounds throughout the county and along the way have developed some ideas about what makes some playgrounds great, and others so-so.
Her threesome tends to favor playgrounds that offer unique themes like trains or boats, she says. They loved the wooden castle-themed Discovery Playground in Tarpon Springs and even discovered a vintage carousel (taken out of most parks for safety reasons, she said) at Kolb Park in Indian Rocks Beach.
"They loved it (the carousel) because it was different than they were used to and they could really get it going," she said.
Playgrounds with big fake rocks to climb on also garnered high marks.
Last summer, the Quinns visited 59 parks; this summer, 69. Occasionally they liked a park so well, they went back again for more.
Some days it was too rainy to go out and sometimes, they'd venture out after a storm and take advantage of the freshly made mud puddles to splash around in.
"We were surprised at how many playgrounds there are in Pinellas," Quinn said. "In two summers, we haven't visited half of them and still have many more to visit in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. They have over 100 parks each."
Still, we think that visiting almost 90 parks in two years makes Quinn a Pinellas playground expert and asked her to name the family's favorite destination playgrounds in north Pinellas.
Tracey Quinn's top six Pinellas playgrounds
(in no particular order) and her commentary on each:
Safety Harbor City Park,
940 Seventh St. S, Safety Harbor
This is the playground we visit the most and in our opinion the best! Our local community hub offers a community center, baseball fields, skateboard park, outdoor basketball court, dog park, boat access and large and small playgrounds in the middle of it all. Way too much to even start describing!
On the Web: playspacefinder.kaboom.org/playspaces/6907-safety-harbor-city-park.
Discovery Playground and Tarpon Sports Complex, 150 Jasmine Ave., Tarpon Springs
This large enclosed playground is one of the few wooden structures in our area. In the theme of a castle, it features winding tunnels and stairs, numerous climbing and hanging activities, a tot lot and a tire swing. Although it is surrounded by baseball and soccer fields, it is definitely a destination location for kids of all ages.
On the Web: playspacefinder.kaboom.org/playspaces/96083-discovery-playground-tarpon.
Edgewater Park and Marina, 51 Main St., Dunedin
Since this playground is right on the marina, both the large and small areas are shaped like boats. The kids love climbing through what looks like a boat, there are many places to "hide" and balancing across anything becomes "walking the plank." This is one of the few places where we always see other kids.
On the Web: playspacefinder.kaboom.org/playspaces/86289-edgewater-park.
799 Riviere Road, Palm Harbor (between Nebraska Avenue and Tampa Road)
Although this unique playground is enclosed in a very small space in front of baseball fields and a tennis court, the equipment keeps the kids engaged and entertained. They refer to it as the "spinning park" since many things, well, spin and they like to make themselves dizzy.
On the Web: playspacefinder.kaboom.org/playspaces/ 95300-putnam-park.
Sunshine Limitless Playground at the Long Center, 1501 N Belcher Road, Clearwater
One of the largest completely accessible playgrounds in the area. It is extremely colorful and has many different areas for kids to explore and climb through. Also enclosed within the playground is a butterfly garden, outdoor fitness equipment, restrooms and covered picnic and play areas. Since it is near train tracks, we occasionally get to see a passing train.
On the Web: playspacefinder.kaboom.org/playspaces/2166-long-center-playground.
Rainbow Rotary Playground at Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive, Largo (East Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard/Missouri Avenue)
One of the largest completely accessible playgrounds in the area, there are several separate structures to explore and a vintage metal train climber. On the first weekend of every month, the Largo Central Railroad gives free miniature train rides through Largo Central Park.
On the Web: playspacefinder.kaboom.org/playspaces/12395- rainbow-rotary-playground.