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Free for all children, for more than 60 years!

In 1956, the streets of Monterey were abuzz with anticipation of a brand new park — Dennis the Menace Park overlooking El Estero Lake. Named in honor of local Monterey resident and creator of the Dennis the Menace character, Hank Ketcham, the park was a monument to the essence of the Dennis the Menace lifestyle of “kids will be kids.”

Ketcham partnered with Arch Garner to design the park, which had such attractions as “The Thing” and a “Treehouse” for the kids to play on. The park was created for “the free use of all children!”

The park was a true playground, with metal construction rigs that provided climbing opportunities, sand boxes, and walking-biking paths for kids to play. All of the original construction has been replaced with modern iterations, but the park is still one of the largest and most diverse of any municipal playground on the Central Coast — sitting on more than 50,000 square feet of crafted jungle gym features, including a merry-go-round, chutes and ladders structures, tunnels, bridges, slides, hills and trees, a hedge maze, and a versatile rock climbing wall.

At the entrance, an authentic 1924 Southern Pacific steam engine No. 1985 stands as the last piece of the original installation. Fencing around the train prohibits children from climbing on or into the feature any longer. It is a relic of a time gone by where liability was assumed by the user of the park features, not by the host. There is vintage video available online showing clips of what was deemed an acceptable playground feature at Dennis the Menace park (google “Spinny Thing of Death”), but the golden age is gone by with to many accidents, injuries, and fatalities around the nation, and of course, science and engineering has come a long way. Still, there are those who comment of YouTube videos that “most of the fun equipment has been removed” or that the “original features were the best.”

Regardless of which side of that argument you find yourself, a trip to the park today will prove that kids still know how to have fun! The biggest challenge, if you have more than one child, is keeping up with both of them as they jump from one feature to another and back again on the 1.3 acres of playground paradise.

The playground is centered within the 45-acre El Estero Park Complex complete with nine other activity areas — a youth center, ballpark, dance studio, boating, snack bar, dog park, skate park, exercise course, and fishing piers.

The City of Monterey is actively looking at options to open the steam engine back up to the public while meeting current safety standards. The reopening will be a fulfilling celebration bringing the nostalgia of a time-gone-by back to a generation of enthusiastic and curious kids.

Entry to Dennis the Menace Park is free to all — a promise kept to the creators of the first installment in 1956.

The park opens at 10 a.m. and closes at dusk, but is closed all day Tuesdays during the school year — September to May.

For more information about the park or El Estero Park Complex reservations, call 831-646-3866 or go to monterey.org.

Over the 60-plus years of changes seen at the park, we bet that Dennis the Menace would enjoy himself a great deal on the current edition.