Orton Geological Museum: Earth’s curiosities will please youngsters at free OSU museum
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Orton Geological Museum

Earth’s curiosities will please youngsters at free OSU museum


I discovered the Orton Geological Museum while as a student at the Ohio State University. I enjoyed exploring the architecture of older buildings on campus, such as Orton Hall, which dates back to 1893. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is well-known on campus for its beloved bell tower that chimes every 15 minutes.

You can enter the Orton Geological Museum from the Orton Hall lobby. The museum and building are named after geologist Edward Orton – Ohio State’s first president.

I liked to gaze at cases of crystals, fossils, meteorites and casts of dinosaur bones among the more than 54,000 specimens. But the showstopper remains the case of minerals that rest behind a black curtain. When you press a button, they glow in ultraviolet light.

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I recently returned to the free museum with my children. It’s part of the School of Earth Sciences and used for research, teaching and public display. What would Rosie and Max think of the concealed case of minerals?

Just being on campus was an adventure for my 6- and 8-year-old, but they were especially captivated by the little museum with signage that appeared to be as much relics as the items they explained. Like during past visits, there were no other people in the museum.

Rosie and Max saw for-sale items in a glass case before they spotted the fluorescent minerals. There were fossil shark teeth for 25 cents and handmade gemstone necklaces for $4. We rang a bell that triggered an academic-looking gentleman to assist us. We settled on two crystal-growing kits for $4.50 apiece.

“Did you see what’s behind the black curtain?” the man asked.

Rosie and Max ran behind the curtain before I had a chance to see their reactions.

“Push the button!” I said from outside.

“Wow, awesome!” I heard two little voices simultaneously say.

Mission accomplished.

The Orton Geological Museum is located at 155 S. Oval Mall. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday and on evenings and weekends by appointment.

For more information call 614-292-6896 or visit ortongeologicalmuseum.osu.edu.

Triplehorn Insect Collection: See millions of six-legged specimens at Ohio State’s Museum of Biological Diversity
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Triplehorn Insect Collection

See millions of six-legged specimens at Ohio State’s Museum of Biological Diversity


“Are these alive?” asks 6-year-old Max while observing a tray full of motionless wasps pinned inside white boxes.

“No, nothing here is alive,” replies Luciana Musetti, curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection in the Museum of Biological Diversity on the Ohio State University’s west campus. Musetti welcomes the public – especially curious children – to check out the more than 3.5 million specimens in the collection, ranked among the best in North America.

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“Are they real?” Max asks.

“They are real,” Musetti says. “Nothing here is plastic.”

“Ewww, they’re gross!” concludes Max.

“If you want to study science, you have to get over the ‘eww’ factor,” assures Musetti. “Insects are awesome and beautiful.”

During our 30-minute visit, Musetti, who studies parasitoid wasps at Ohio State, challenged my children’s thinking about the six-legged creatures that scamper about our planet.

Rosie, 8, learned that butterflies come in all shapes, sizes and colors and that some insects look like leaves and rocks, which protect them from predators. She also learned that some beetles are pretty and resemble gems.

They learned about the benefits of dung beetles, too. “They lay their eggs in dung and the larvae eats the dung,” Musetti says. “If it weren’t for dung beetles, we’d be up to our ears in dung.”

The museum opened in 1992 and contains seven collections that represent more than 9 million specimens, such as ticks, butterflies, beetles, shells and fungi – some stuck with pins to foam and cork, others preserved in alcohol and others tacked on microscope slides. The insect collection is named after Charles A. Triplehorn, who curated the collection for 31 years, beginning in 1962.

The museum is part of the university’s Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. It has one of the largest collections of audio recordings of animal sounds in the country and a collection of tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) that dates back to 1837.

Scientists and students learn about evolution and biological diversity by studying the collections, which are continually expanding.

Musetti, who has a PhD in entomology from Purdue University, specializes in the taxonomy and systematics of parasitoid wasps – a natural enemy of stinkbugs which have been wreaking havoc on suburbanites. The wasps lay eggs in the legs of stink bugs, and the larvae consume their host legs before the stink bugs can hatch. They’re seen as biological control agents of the invasive and destructive stink bugs.

Before leaving the museum, I signed a guestbook that contained signatures dating to 1939. It felt like I was signing a historic document.

My kids ended their visit by creating what Musetti calls “bugs in goo.” Using tweezers, they put several Japanese beetles in a vial of hand sanitizer. They took them home and played that they were scientists, just like Musetti.

An annual open house is held in February – this year drawing more than 2,000 visitors, making it one of the college’s largest outreach events. The public is welcome to visit the museum for free anytime during the year. However, because it’s a research and teaching facility, visits should be arranged in advance with a collection curator or through the museum’s website at osuc.osu.edu/visitors.html.

The Museum of Biological Diversity is located at 1315 Kinnear Rd., room 1220, where there is visitor parking at designated signs, however you must pay to park on the OSU campus. Purchase an hourly pass at the pay-to-park machine at 1110 Kinnear Rd.

Geocaching in Columbus
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Geocaching in Columbus

GPS hide-and-seek game takes families on exciting outdoor adventures


As Mike and Rosie walked across the field at Antrim Park, they stared down at Mike’s phone. A blue dot was moving across the screen toward a green dot. They began to walk faster until the blue dot nearly covered the green dot, which we all hoped betokened a hidden treasure.

“It’s around here somewhere,” Mike said.

They searched for crevices in a brick wall, thumbing around for a small container.

“I found it, I found it” yelled Rosie, pointing to a small green capsule attached to a tree limb.

Father and daughter gave each other a high five. Rosie then unscrewed the top of the capsule, which bore no treasure – only a miniature scroll. Still, after the 20-minute site search, that was in itself a prize. Rosie signed her name on the paper coil, rolled it back up and returned it to the capsule.

We had completed our first “geocaching” family adventure.

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Geocaching is an outdoor-adventure game that originated in the year 2000. Players use a mobile app or GPS device to find cleverly hidden containers (or geocaches) around the world. It’s pretty simple: A geocacher hides a geocache, lists it on Geocaching.com and challenges other geocachers to find it. There are more than 10 million registered users on Geocaching.com.

It’s a fun way to explore your everyday surroundings, where the possibility of a new discovery hides under a fallen tree, near a parking meter or within a short walk of wherever you happen to be.

We’ve discovered that geocaches can come in a variety of shapes and sizes – from a non-hidden structure containing shareable books in a neighbor’s front yard to an earbud-sized magnetic container holding a strip of paper hidden at Whetstone Park.

At minimum, geocaches contain a logbook for finders to sign. (So be sure to bring along a pen.) Some geocaches contain small trinkets for trade – such as rubber bracelets, pretty rocks and even money, as we discovered in one container. If a geocacher takes something from the geocache, they replace it with something of equal or greater value.

Geocaches are put back where they were found for the next geocacher. They’re never buried and shouldn’t contain food or dangerous objects. When we found the tiny scroll at Antrim Park, I made a note about the find on our phone, using the Geocaching app. The green dot transformed into a smiley face, signifying we’d scored one of nearly 2.5 million geocaches hidden around the globe.

So, how do you get started? At its simplest level, geocaching requires two steps: You first register for a free, basic membership at Geocaching.com and you then download the free Geocaching Intro app on your mobile phone.

Opening the app reveals a blue dot signifying your GPS coordinates on a detailed map, and lots of green and grey dots that represent hidden geocaches. The geocaches signified by the green dots can be found with the free app, while the ones signified by the grey dots require you to purchase the premium app for $9.99. Reviews of the app seemed to indicate that you then need to pay a
monthly fee for access. We concluded that the free app provided a thorough-enough experience for playing the game.

Geocaching can, of course, get more complicated if you want it to. You can go to great links to hide and find them – in caves or even under water. You can learn the lingo by using words like “muggle” (a non-geocacher) or plot to be the first to find a newly hidden geocache – giving you the right to write “FTF” (first to find) on a geocache log. (Read the glossary here.)

Learn more about geocaching and register to play at www.geocaching.com/play.

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Topiary Park

Walk through a work of art in downtown Columbus


There’s a magical place in downtown Columbus that gets better with age.

The Topiary Park, a 7-acre landscape with 54 figures made of bronze frames overgrown by yew trees, has nicely taken shape since the attraction opened in 1992.

Figures of women with parasols and men with top hats have become pleasantly plump with greenery, and sculptures of dogs, a monkey and a cat have fattened since I’ve last seen them. The attraction, located at the Old Deaf School Park at 480 E. Town St., is a great place for quiet reflection or a fine backdrop for family photos.

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My family and I visited the park on a cloudy day, the perfect kind of weather for taking pictures of flowers and landscaping. We began our adventures by stopping at the nearby visitor’s center, where we picked up an information sheet before taking our self-guided tour.

The park is a sculptural interpretation of Georges Seurat’s Post-Impressionist painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.” It’s the only known topiary representation of a painting.

I remember the large artwork composed of tiny brush stroke dots from the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” As a teenager I relished seeing the oil painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Visitors can see the work from the artist’s view by standing on a hill near a bronze plaque. The tallest figures, measuring 12 feet, were placed in the foreground, giving the scene depth of field.

A local sculptor named James T. Mason envisioned the attraction. The project took shape in 1988 as James built bronze frames and planted the shrubs. His wife, Elaine, sculpted the topiaries and trained other gardeners to help with trimming. Hills were added later, along with a pond representing the Seine river in Paris, with boats and water lilies.

The park is maintained by Columbus Recreation and Parks and the Friends of the Topiary Park.

The visitor’s center, gift shop and restrooms are located in a nearby chateau-style gatehouse.

The park is the site of a family concert series called PBJ & Jazz, which occurs from noon-1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month from June through September. Outdoor movies also are shown on select dates from July through September.

(Be advised, though, that the park also is a resting spot for a variety of downtown’s denizens.)

Admission is free. Hours are from sunrise to sunset. On-street parking is available. For more information, visit www.topiarygarden.org or call 614-645-0197.

Caves at Indian Village
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Indian Village

Discover caves in Columbus


How did I not know there were caves in Columbus?

I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and thought I knew just about every hidden geographical gem in central Ohio including waterfalls, quarries and ravines.

But caves?

Albeit little, there are several genuine caves in Columbus along the west bank of the Scioto River near Griggs Reservoir.

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I learned about them while attending a “Family Nature Club” day with my children at the Indian Village Outdoor Education Center, 3200 Indian Village Rd.

The center, operated by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, promotes environmental education and outdoor exploration including a handful of caves located on the property. The free, monthly event is a good time to discover the caves, if you haven’t already.

“It’s a diamond in the rough,” said Stephanie Ransom, an Indian Village employee who was onsite leading a craft. “I’m pretty sure I heard ‘How did I not know about this place’ at least five times today.'”

Ransom, an Ohio State University student majoring in environmental sciences, told us she’s known about the caves since she was 6 years old. That’s when she started attending a popular summer camp held at Indian Village.

She encouraged us to set out on a short trail to see the caves for ourselves.

My two children and I walked in the rain along a leaf-filled creek, soon feeling like we were deep in the woods – save for the occasional glimpses of apartment buildings through the trees.

Seeing the caves was exhilarating, because I had no idea they were there. It was thrilling for my kids because there were enticing little coves in which to play. A couple were just nooks in the rocks where a 4- and 6-year-old could take shelter from the rain.

Two others were true caves. You could walk inside and see a deeper pit of darkness that was a bit scary to enter. We hung outside until another family accompanied us into the black chamber. It turned out that the dark tunnel didn’t go far – just a few adult steps deep.

We had fun escaping the rain in the dusty, rock-covered shelter. My kids immediately pretended they were Native Americans at home among the rocks. This, I thought, was surely inspired by the teepee located near the lodge.

The Ottawa Education Lodge is a red, wooden building facing the river. It’s available to rent for birthday parties, and its spacious interior lends itself well as a meeting space for kids during summer camp. There is a fireplace with a comfortable couch and chairs near a collection of books and games. There also are aquariums with fish, snakes and turtles.

Before we left, we made headbands by taping leaves to a strip of construction paper. It was a crafty end to a surprisingly fun day.

For more information about Indian Village Outdoor Education Center and upcoming Family Nature Club days, click here or call 614-645-3380.

Westerville Community Center
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Westerville Community Center

Year-round, indoor playground


Catch this idea about the Westerville Community Center, put it in your pocket and save it for a rainy day.

The Westerville Community Center, at 350 N. Cleveland Ave. in Westerville, is a great place to take young children when our Ohio weather isn’t cooperating. Daily passes allow use of the indoor offerings including a gym, climbing wall, pool and playground.

Westerville Parks and Recreation operates the 96,000-square-foot facility, which opened to residents and outsiders, like me, in November 2001.

Like many moms around central Ohio, I discovered the center while attending a birthday party. The pool and climbing wall are available for party rentals.

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The indoor pool is called the Watering Hole and includes a shallow area with fountains and a slide. There’s also a lazy river and swirling slide for tube rides. Daily resident rates for a child to swim in the pool is $7.50 and $2 charge to observe.

The concrete wall, called the Zenith Climbing Wall, measures 27 feet. It’s designed for beginners and experts alike. Daily rates for a non-resident child is $5.25. Children must weigh 40 pounds.

A great way to check out the facility is to visit the indoor playground, which is free. Children aged two and younger are admitted for free to all activities.

For more information, visit www.westerville.org.

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Alum Creek Park

Find fun playground, sand volleyball, charcoal grills


Some of my favorite memories of childhood involve impromptu outings to neighborhood parks with my brothers and sisters.

As teenagers, my older siblings were surprisingly adept at selecting fun places for us to visit. They often packed a picnic of hotdogs and hamburgers that they’d cook on the charcoal grills that dotted the landscape in the 1970s.

Recently seeing several charcoal grills alongside a picnic shelter at Alum Creek Park in Westerville brought back this fond memory. It made me want to return to revive the park picnic in the near future with my family.

On this day, however, I was content enough to appreciate all the park’s other fine offerings, including a sand volleyball court, ball diamond and basketball court that’s lit up at night.

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My young children enjoyed the plentiful playground equipment with uncommon features such as a climbable train donned up in primary colors, and a spinning contraption that allowed them to rotate in a circle while hanging by their arms. “Again, again!”

Operated by Westerville Parks and Recreation, Alum Creek Park is situated on 12 tree-filled acres alongside Alum Creek at 221 W. Main St. It’s home to many events throughout the year, including a free summer concert series that gives center stage to the domed-shaped amphitheater with its natural, stadium-style seating.

The park also offers a nearby bike path, canoe launch and clean restrooms – a must for families with young children.

For more information, visit www.westerville.org.

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Wildwood Park

Please young royals at castle-like playgrounds


Sometimes I prefer a wooden, rickety rollercoaster to a streamlined, steel one. Therefore I thought my children might like to try an “old-school” wooden playground instead of the newfangled community play areas we usually visit.

Wildwood Park, at 785 W. Broadway in the village of Granville, has a great wooden playground. Volunteers built it in 1993, according to a sign on the property.

At its entrance, the structure resembles a castle or a fort, depending on which of my children you ask. It’s got wooden towers with pyramid-shaped tops and a labyrinth of walkways with lots of hiding places. There are multiple levels, with several metal slides, and swings and tunnels made of old tires.

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We visited the park, 40 minutes east of Columbus, on a hot day before school started in August, as a way to celebrate the impending end of summer. We spent most of our time under a shady tree amid the structure, which lent a tree house feel to it. I sat in the middle as my children ran around me, looking for clues that led to a pot of gold painted on a treasure map.

The park also contains soccer fields, clean bathrooms and a water fountain.

The promise of ice cream inspired my kids to wrap up their play. We headed a half mile west back toward downtown Granville where we found Whit’s Frozen Custard at 138 E. Broadway.

Whit’s is a decade-old, local establishment where they make the custard fresh every day. We got cups of the Buckeye flavor – peanut-butter custard with chunks of Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups – and sat an iron table under a market umbrella.

It was a fitting end to an old-school adventure that never goes out of style.

For more information, visit www.granvillerec.org/parks-facilities/wildwood-park.

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Columbus Commons

Former downtown mall is now an eventful lawn for all


As I walk through the grassy lawn of Columbus Commons, I can’t help but think of the Talking Heads song “Nothing But Flowers.”

“There was a shopping mall, now it’s all covered with flowers,” sings David Byrne in the ’80s hit. “Once there were parking lots, now it’s a peaceful oasis.”

In 1989, about the same year the song came out, the Columbus City Center opened in downtown Columbus. The shopping center offered more than a million square feet of merchandise in the heart of downtown.

The mall closed in 2009, and to the surprise of many it reverted to a huge public lawn in the center of the city, where food trucks now converge and friends gather to play kickball.

Columbus Commons is a 7-acre green space featuring gardens designed by Franklin Park Conservatory, an outdoor reading room sponsored by Friends of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and a whimsical carousel carved by the artists at Mansfield’s Carousel Works.

Children can ride the carousel for free during Commons for Kids, a family-friendly event held Fridays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. through Aug. 29. They also can romp on the lawn, play with a life-size chess set, make structures out of interlocking foam shapes and participate in organized crafts.

The park even has a state-of-the-art performance space called Columbus Bicentennial Pavilion. More than 200 programs are held there annually, including Picnic with the Pops and Shakespeare in the Park.

If all this play makes you hungry, get some pizza  at Mikey’s Late Night Slice or a creative cone at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams – two Columbus originals that now have permanent shops at the park.

Columbus Commons is open daily from 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Parking is available at nearby garages at 55 E. Rich St. and 191 S. Third St.

For a list of family-friendly events, visit columbuscommons.org/happenings/families.

Stay tuned to the park’s events calendar at columbuscommons.org/happenings/event-calendar.

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Hayden Falls

A pocket of paradise amid urban sprawl


There’s a pocket of paradise amid urban sprawl on the Northwest Side of Columbus, where you’ll find rare plants in a wooded gorge and an impressive, 25-foot-high waterfall.

Located at 4335 Hayden Run Rd., near the intersection of Hayden Run Road and Riverside Drive, Hayden Falls has been drawing nature lovers and romantics for decades. Part of Griggs Nature Preserve, the small park offers spectacular rock formations, diverse plant life and a surprising waterfall, hidden from the nearby busy roads and close-knit homes.

The falls are visible above from two overlooks and below from a wooden boardwalk. For a close look, park in the little lot along Hayden Run Road, then descend a cliff by a wooden stairway. Walk the 150-foot boardwalk, alongside a sycamore-lined stream, toward the falls.

The stairway and boardwalk were added in 2006 to protect visitors from getting hurt and to protect the fragile ecosystem.

Water levels vary throughout the year – from trickling to gushing. For best views, visit after a hard rain in spring or during a cold spell when snow and ice turn the area into a winter wonderland.

There are no benches or bathrooms about, and a sign reads, “No swimming, wading, fishing, climbing or rappelling.” The sign also warns visitors to remain on the boardwalk or be prosecuted, although it’s evident that people disobey the sign. On a recent visit, I observed a tiny snowman near the falls.

The park, open daily from 7 a.m.-8 p.m., is managed by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department.