Family fun at Loretta French

Chugiak park offers plenty of year-round activities


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My family and I rediscovered Loretta French Park in Chugiak. We had been there last winter for sledding. While there, my husband looked around, saw the lack of trees and power lines and thought to himself about the possibilities for more fun when the snow cleared.

My family loves model rockets. It might be that they are guys and anything with explosive power makes them feel manlier. It might be genetic with rockets, airplanes and a general love of space going back generations. No matter the reason, model rocketry is a family hobby.

The grassy area by the hill at the ball field seemed the perfect area to get back to this hobby here in Alaska. I called Chugiak-Eagle River Parks and Recreation to see if we needed permission to use their property. I was told to make sure the area was clear of bystanders and to clean up when we were done.

My elder son was extremely excited about getting to launch rockets. We had recently introduced him to the movie “October Sky.” The adventures of the Rocket Boys gave him ideas. Not long after watching the movie, he had built his own rocket out of materials found around the house. He couldn’t wait to see if it would fly, or be as spectacular a failure as Homer and his friends had with some of their first rockets.

So on a sunny and minimally windy day, we set out with three rockets, two made from store-bought kits and Xavier’s rocket.

The grassy area was clear, so our plan was a go. The men gauged the wind and set up the launch site accordingly. Xavier’s rocket was the first to go on the launch pad. The wires to the remote ignition switch were attached. Everyone moved back to a safe distance.

It was finally time for the countdown: T-minus 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... liftoff.

The rocket flew to a height of about 10 feet, spun around, jettisoned the engine, and fell ungracefully back to earth. My sons came back from retrieving it elated. The rocket was unscathed and could be launched again.

The launches of the other rockets were more successful, but less entertaining. With our supply of engines diminished, it was time to explore the rest that the park had to offer.

The climbing equipment was just what my little wannabe ninjas needed. My sons set the timers on their watches and raced each other from apparatus to apparatus pretending they were trying out for American Ninja Warrior. My daughter made sure she preformed all the activities as well. Being the shortest and youngest of the bunch, it took her significantly more time, but she made it across all obstacles on her own.

Then they found the teeter-totter. I had forgotten how much fun going up and down and up and down could be at their age. I also learned that when you are old enough to have three kids, your behind will make you pay for going up and down on that hard plastic. However, it was worth all the laughs and giggles it brought.

After all the fun we had, I can promise that won’t be the last we see of Loretta French Park.

Eagle River’s Lori Spears is the wife of a captain in the U.S. Army.

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