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Olentangy Indian Caverns

Explore caves and mine for gems at nostalgic roadside attraction in Delaware


One of the beloved aspects of traveling across America by automobile is the unexpected roadside attractions you see advertised on billboards and barns along your journey.

One such tourist spot I’ve seen promoted for many years in central Ohio is Olentangy Indian Caverns, located 20 minutes north of Columbus in Delaware. It took me more than 20 years to finally visit the roadside caves that I knew nothing about and expected about the same.

Happily, I was wrong.

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My family had a great time exploring an underground maze of passages, mining for gems and striding through the woods. Visitors also can play a round of miniature golf, romp on a playground, shop for souvenirs and learn about the history of Native Americans in Ohio.

The caverns were formed millions of years ago by the force of an underground river cutting through limestone strata. This was Columbus white and Delaware blue limestone, if you want to get technical.

What’s really interesting is that how the holes in the ground were used by the Wyandotte Indians for refuge and by lots of others as hiding places.

Narrated tours and self-guided tours are available depending on the time of year.

We took a self-guided tour, using a map to plot our way through underground passages that lead into open spaces. Some spots have audio.

An explorer by the name of J.M. Adams discovered the caverns in 1821. You can even view his engraving in the rock. As you wind your way underground, you’ll see the echo chamber, a natural air shaft that circulates air every half hour; the Crystal Room, with an impressive “beehive stalagmite” looming overhead; and Cathedral Hall, a 500-foot passage that features fossils on the walls and a 50-foot tower that once was a waterfall.

Evidence shows that Wyandotte Indians used the caverns as shelter from the weather and protection from their enemies – the Delaware Indians. Native Americans used the caverns until the early 1800s, and hundreds of arrowheads and stone tools were found.

My husband liked learning about the culture of Ohio’s Native Americans in the Cave House Museum. The kids really liked romping around the meadow and mining for stones we purchased, complete with silt, in the gift shop. They placed them in a sluice with running water and “panned” for the colorful stones through the muck.

Olentangy Indian Caverns is located at 1779 Home Rd., Delaware.

The cavern is open daily from April through October and on weekends in November. Cost to tour the caverns is $9.50 for adults and $6.95 for children. Children ages 6 and younger are free. Cost of gem mining starts at $4.50 for a small bag of unpolished gems. Golf costs $5.

Be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and a jacket, as the caves remain a constant 50-degree temperature. Bottled water is permitted.

For more information, visit www.olentangyindiancaverns.com or call 740-548-7917.

View the cave map here: www.olentangyindiancaverns.com/cave-map.

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Central Ohio Farm Markets

Prime picking time for farmers markets


One of the best things about summer in Ohio is the bounty of fruits and vegetables. There’s nothing like a sun-ripened tomato, picked fresh from the vine. Even better is dicing it up and combining it with peeled cucumbers, strips of basil and a freshly made vinaigrette for a tasty summertime salad.

You can find these ingredients and more at the many farm markets sprouting up this time of year in central Ohio. I recently visited the farmers market in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville, held each Saturday from April through November.

Vendors from around Ohio set up temporary shops along N. High Street, offering fruits, vegetables, pastries, jams, honey and flowers. The farmers grow their produce within 75 miles of Columbus, so it’s made for flavor — not made to survive long trips on trucks or trains.

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Here is a brief look at some of the many farm markets around central Ohio:

Bexley Farmers Market: 4-7 p.m., Thursdays, May through October, Bexley City Hall, 2111 E. Main St., Bexley. Learn more: www.bexleyfarmersmarket.com.

Canal Winchester Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon., Saturdays, May through October, Main Street in downtown Canal Winchester. Learn more: www.thecwfm.com.

Clintonville Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, April through November; and 4-7 p.m., Wednesdays, June through August, west side of N. High Street between Orchard Lane and W. Dunedin Road, Columbus. Learn more: www.clintonvillefarmersmarket.org.

Delaware Farmers Market: 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Saturdays; 3-6 p.m., Wednesdays, May through October, Sandusky Street, downtown Delaware. Learn more: www.mainstreetdelaware.com/farmers-market.

Dublin Farmers Market: 3:30-6:30 p.m.., Wednesdays, May through September, Oakland Nursery, 4261 W. Dublin-Granville Rd., Dublin. Learn more: www.dublinfarmersmarket.com.

Franklinton’s Market at 400: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturdays (biweekly), year round, 400 W. Rich St., Columbus. Learn more: 400westrich.com.

Grandview Avenue Farmers Market: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays, July through October, 1371 Grandview Ave., Grandview Heights.

Grove City Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, April through October, Grove City Town Center, at the corners of Park Street and Broadway.

Hilliard Farm Market: 4-7 p.m., Tuesdays, June through September, parking lots at the corner of Wayne and Center streets, Hilliard. Learn more: hilliardfarmmarket.com.

Jefferson Township Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, June through September, Jefferson Community Park, 7494 Clark State Rd., Blacklick.

Lancaster Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, May through October, Government Services parking lot, 239 W. Main St., Lancaster. Learn more: www.lancasterohfarmersmarket.org.

Pearl Market: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays, May through October, Pearl Alley, one block north of the Ohio Statehouse, downtown Columbus. Learn more: downtowncolumbus.com/pearlmarket.

Powell Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, May through October, City of Powell Municipal Building, 47 Hall St., Powell.

Reynoldsburg Farmers Market: 3-6 p.m., Thursdays, June through August, Huber Park, 7300 E. Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg.

Worthington Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, May through October; 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, November through April (indoors), downtown Olde Worthington. Learn more: worthingtonfarmersmarket.blogspot.com.

Upper Arlington Farmers Market: 3-6 p.m., Wednesdays, May through September, Upper Arlington Senior Center, 1945 Ridgeview Rd.

Uptown Westerville Farmers Market: 3-6 p.m., Wednesdays, May through October, N. State and E. Home roads, Westerville. Learn more: www.marketwednesday.com.

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Gallant Farm Preserve

Play parlor games at Depression-era home, living-history museum


Moms and daughters, dads and sons enter the warm, welcoming farmhouse in Delaware County. A kind volunteer, wearing an apron-covered gingham dress, greets the visitors of Gallant Farm Preserve by making cocoa on a vintage wood stove.

Gallant Farm, a living-history museum at 2150 Buttermilk Hill Rd., opened in October. The recreated farmstead recalls a simpler time during the Depression era, when butter was churned in gallon jugs and clothes were made from feed sacks. Guests can explore a one-story house furnished with period pieces such as an antique Victrola and a Maytag washer. The 19-acre property also has a barn and a fishing pond.

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The farm is located across the street from Gallant Woods Preserve, which offers 2 miles of trails and a sledding hill. The land, originally owned by Charlotte Gallant, is operated by Preservation Parks of Delaware County, which cares for the county’s unique, natural habitats. According to the 2010 census, Delaware County is the fastest-growing county in Ohio.

I recently visited Gallant Farm with my two young children, Rosie and Max, who enjoyed investigating objects in the home. While Max picked up a Mason jar of colorful marbles and poured them onto a braided rug, Rosie tried on lacy hats before a mirrored-dresser in the bedroom. I made myself at home before a Christmas tree decorated with paper snowflakes and garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and topped with a corn-husk angel.

Visitors also can participate in one of the farm’s many educational programs, such as learning how to play Chinese checkers and other board games of the 1930s and ’40s. Our host showed us how to make puppets out of old socks, and dolls from discarded thread spools.

What I didn’t miss was a television or electronic games. But, guests can listen to radio programs, like “The Shadow,” while munching on homemade popcorn balls.

Hours are noon-5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free, although some crafts cost $2 and require preregistration. For more information and to view a schedule of events, visit www.preservationparks.com.

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Stratford Ecological Center

Learn about farm life at nature preserve


It was a warm spring day, and I wanted to spend it outdoors exploring a new place with my 2-year-old son, Max.

I discovered the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio, while flipping through a county visitor’s guide.

I had never before heard of this educational farm and nature preserve, located a half hour’s drive north or Columbus. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to educating children and adults about the relationships between living things and their environment.

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Situated on 236 acres, the center includes a 95-acre state nature preserve, 3 miles of hiking trails and a small organic farm with cows, sheep, chickens and pigs. The farm is open to the public for exploration, and also contains gardens, greenhouses, an orchard and a maple-sugaring operation.

Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday. So Max and I were in luck for our impromptu adventure.

I eagerly drove out to country with my car windows down. But when we arrived, if felt as though we were the only ones around at what appeared to be a private, family farm.

I stepped inside the information center and met volunteer coordinator Jane Walsh, who encouraged us to explore the property on our own. She also invited us to tag along with a group of 60 home-schooled children, who’d be arriving soon.

“You’ll want to see our crop of new lambs,” Walsh said.

I couldn’t refuse.

When the children arrived, the place lit up with laughter and excitement. Other volunteers began to appear out of barns and greenhouses. The children and their parents were divided into groups for a tour. Max and I fit right in, joining one of the groups.

Volunteer Bethanie Bidinger led our group, beginning with a tour of one of the greenhouses. It smelled of fresh rosemary, lettuce and spinach.

Bidinger, a graduate of Ohio State’s natural resources program, plucked a beet from the dirt. She then cut open the red, edible root and dabbed a bit of its juicy flesh on her cheeks and lips.

“Beets make a wonderful, natural makeup,” Bidinger said.

The children laughed and then clamored to have their own faces and hands painted red, too.

Bidinger then led us to a fenced-in area full of colorful, roaming chickens. She opened the gate and we headed inside, along with the strutting roosters and hens.

“Does anyone eat chicken nuggets?” Bidinger asked, to my surprise.

Many of the children raised their hands.

“Well, this is where they come from.”

Bidinger also taught the children where eggs, beef, ham and milk come from. Upon leaving the chicken coop, she instructed everyone to thank the chickens for all they give us.

“Thank you, chickens,” the children said.

Max and I ended our adventure in the farm’s big red barn, where we met 18 lambs, dairy goats and a llama with a serious under-bite.

It was the perfect ending to an impromptu adventure.

The Stratford Ecological Center is located at 3083 Liberty Rd., Delaware. It offers children’s farm and field trips, adult tours, family programs and farm camps that teach youngsters, ages 3 to 17, how to care for animals and raise a garden.

There is no cost to visit, but a donation is suggested.

For more information, including upcoming activities and costs of specific programs, call 740-363-2548 or visit www.stratfordecologicalcenter.org.

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Perkins Observatory

View moon, planets, stars at public viewings


When I was a little girl, my dad often encouraged me to look up at the nighttime sky.

Using his U.S. Navy-issued binoculars, he’d point out constellations, such as the Big Dipper and Orion. Dad also taught me about the phases of the moon and how a lunar eclipse is formed.

Learning about our solar system at an early age made me appreciate our planet’s place in it so much more.

While taking an astronomy course at Ohio State University in the late ‘80s, I discovered the Perkins Observatory in Delaware. I delighted in looking at the moon and planets through the facility’s many telescopes. I even saw the rings of Saturn, which looked to me like ears on a monkey’s head.

Perkins Observatory is a research facility that’s used by faculty and students of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Physics and Astronomy Department. It’s also open to the public and offers educational programs in astronomy for all ages.

One great way to get introduced to the subject is at one of Perkins’ stargazing nights, held most Fridays throughout the year. The sessions begin at 9 p.m. in the summer and at 8 p.m. in winter. The programs, held rain or shine, include lessons in astronomy, a tour of the observatory and time to view the moon, planets and stars through the observatory’s 32-inch telescope.

Perkins Observatory can accommodate a maximum of 80 guests, so tickets must be purchased in advance by calling 740-363-1257. Admission is $6 for adults, and $4 for seniors and children. (Tickets purchased on the day of the program cost $2 more.)

The observatory is located along U.S. Rte. 23, 10 miles north of Columbus and four miles south of Delaware. Directions are available on its Web site.

While at the observatory, check out its neat gift shop, where you can purchase meteorites, star locators, telescopes, games and posters. Proceeds benefit the observatory’s library. The facility also recently added a playroom with computers and toys for children.

Happy stargazing!

For more information, visit perkins.owu.edu.