Inside Badlands

Inside Badlands

Nature-inspired play space opened Tuesday in Rockville

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Kids test out the mountain and its slides at Badlands.

Joe Zimmermann

It was a pastoral scene Monday night in Badlands with children galloping, rolling and climbing through natural-seeming environs as their parents looked on from seats and guided pathways.

Though it’s not exactly the great outdoors, the new play space in Rockville does its best to approximate it, from its resin-composite mountain that towers above the roving toddlers to birch logs that span from floor to roof, forming an artificial forest. Butterflies fly in a contained greenhouse space.

Mikel Blair, who owns Badlands with her husband, David, wandered through the 30,000-square-foot space during a media event the day before the play center opened Tuesday at 5200 Randolph Road in Loehmann’s Plaza. Many local bloggers and reporters brought their kids in tow.

“I’m very grateful that kids are using the space exactly as I had hoped,” Blair said, pointing out small children who gravitated toward a quiet area that resembles a stream complete with a bridge as older ones scaled the mountain to barrel down its slides.

Badlands is the newest in a number of indoor activity centers catering to children and families in the area. Others include ZavaZone, Rockville Sportsplex and Earth Treks in Rockville, Sky Zone in Gaithersburg and Kidville in Bethesda. Busy Bees, which targets younger children, is set to open in Chevy Chase this summer.

In addition to its tunnels, turf field and gaga court, Badlands has a screening room and a workshop area offering clay crafts, constructible parachutes and a LEGO pit. Danny Haley, director of program development, said the activity center is designed to give kids the freedom to do whatever they want to do.

“We’re presenting kids with what we think is the ideal environment for unstructured play and learning,” he said. “We’re not providing a step-by-step—it’s more about the process.”

Badlands, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, offers daily admission for $22.50 per child older than 3 and $12.50 for toddlers, with monthly membership programs also available. Groups get reduced pricing, and Blair said they are already booking birthday parties and summer camps as well as corporate picnics and a family reunion.

While she said all ages of kids can enjoy the activities, Blair wanted the play space to be comfortable for parents, too. Hence, a patio area extends along the length of the play zone with its own tables, chairs and a café. The café serves sandwiches, paninis, salads, wraps and pastries—in addition to beer, wine and cocktails.

“You know, parents will sometimes have a cocktail with dinner at a restaurant,” Marilu LeBel, director of food and beverages, said. “Maybe they can have a glass of wine with a fresh salad while their kids are running around.”

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