Alum Creek Below Dam Recreation Area: Go for playgrounds, great lake views
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Alum Creek Below Dam Recreation Area

Go for playgrounds, great lake views


There’s a fun family park below the dam at Alum Creek, but it appears nobody wanted the responsibility of coming up with a name for it.

It’s called the Below Dam Recreation Area, and it’s located near the dam’s spillway along Lewis Center Road.

Despite the uninspiring moniker, visiting the attraction for the first time is a perception-altering experience. The 93-foot-high dam is an impressive wall of concrete and an engineering feat that keeps the area from flooding. The 11-mile-long, manmade Alum Creek Lake is obscured from view at the park. What you see is a neatly mowed embankment with tiny, silhouetted people milling around on top.

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There are few trees at the park, so it’s good to visit in the late afternoon when the sun is less harsh. There are two playgrounds with unique features, such as a webbed climbing tower. The picnic shelters were all in use the evening we visited. We witnessed a family on the big lawn flying kites.

But the real fun began when we climbed the dozens of steps alongside the spillway to get to the top of the dam. It’s a long way up, but it’s worth it for the view of the sprawling park below as well as the calm scenery of Alum Creek. We could see fishermen and sunbathers on the beach at the opposite side of the lake, and we walked across the top of the dam to witness the dizzying view to the water below.

It’s also apparently great exercise, as we saw several people running up and down the steps. One trip was enough for us, as we huffed and puffed at the top.

A sign about Alum Creek stated that its beach measures 3,000 feet and is the longest inland beach in Ohio. The reservoir was created in 1974 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It supplies water to the surrounding area and also serves as recreational spot for swimming, boating and fishing. Alum Creek Dam was constructed between 1970 and 1974 to contain the flow of Alum Creek. The waterway is a tributary of Big Walnut Creek, which drains into the Scioto River.

I’m  not sure if our kids learned a whole lot about civil engineering during our visit, but it did divert their attention from computer screens for a while. And for that, we were thankful.

The Below Dam Recreation Area is located at 5905 Lewis Center Rd., Lewis Center. Learn more.

Shale Hollow Preserve: Observe curious rock formations at secluded park in Lewis Center
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Shale Hollow Preserve

Observe curious rock formations at secluded park in Lewis Center


Take your water shoes to Shale Hollow Preserve in Lewis Center and spend a few hours wading in Big Run, a tributary of the Olentangy River that meanders through this 190-acre park that’s relatively hidden among retail stores and housing developments.

Opened in 2013, the park is one of 11 sites operated by Preservation Parks of Delaware County, which cares for the area’s unique, natural habitats in one of the fastest-growing counties in Ohio.

The park offers a nature center with clean restrooms, picnic area, a mile-long crushed-gravel hiking trail and, best of all, an off-trail exploration area, which your family will love.

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It’s natural Ohio at it’s best. Walk a muddy path to the shallow creek filled with shards of shale – perfect, flat stones for skipping to your heart’s content.

Alongside the creek is a four-story cliff layered in shale and curious, spherical rock formations called concretions – that we like to call dinosaur eggs. Some of these “eggs” also are in the creek, popping above the water’s surface like tiny islands.

What else can you do? Take your binoculars and hike the 1.1-mile Great Horned Owl Trail. Spy wild turkeys, woodpeckers, owls and migrating songbirds, as well as read signs to learn about trees like the buckeye, sycamore, cottonwood, beech and sassafras.

The park is open 8 a.m. to sunset year round, so visit in the winter for cross-country skiing.

Shale Hollow Preserve is located at 6320 Artesian Run, Lewis Center, Ohio. (Enter off U.S. Rt. 23.) Learn more.

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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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Gym X-Treme

Channel your inner Mary Lou Retton at open gymnastics facility


Gym X-Treme is making the world of gymnastics more accessible and less intimidating for many central Ohioans who’ve never had an opportunity to walk across a 4-inch-wide balance beam, swing on a set of uneven bars or tumble across a bouncy floor mat.

By opening its two facilities in Lewis Center and Canal Winchester to the public during designated “open gym” hours, children and adults can sample these apparatuses and others under the watchful eye of a gymnastics coach.

I visited Gym X-Treme in Lewis Center with my 5-year-old daughter, Rosie, during a birthday party. Rosie and her friends had the whole gym to themselves for two hours.

I was content to watch the children play through a picture window in an observation room, until the coach invited us moms into the gym to try out the equipment, too.

At age 43, I’ve seen my share of summer Olympic Games on TV, from watching Nadia Comaneci score her first “perfect 10” in 1976 to Kerri Strug being carried by coach Bela Karolyi to receive her gold medal in 1996.

I wasn’t the only mom who seemed thrilled by this opportunity. I bounced on the mini trampoline, cartwheeled across the floor mat and jumped from a vault into a pit of colorful, spongy cubes. I also hung on the uneven bars and walked the entire length of a raised balance beam, jumping off for a dismount. It was awesome!

As exciting it was for me, I could tell the children were having even more fun.

For those who feel so inclined to take lessons, Gym X-Treme offers instruction in competitive gymnastics.

Open gym times are Fridays, 8-10 p.m. All ages are welcome and those ages 8 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Cost is $10. “Mommy and Me” gym time is noon-1:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday. Cost is $5 ($4 for additional siblings), for children age 15 months to 6 years. All participants must sign a release form before participating.

The Lewis Center facility is located at 7708 Green Meadows Dr., and the Canal Winchester gym is at 6810 Thrush Dr.

For more information, visit www.gymx-treme.com.

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North Orange Park

Clever layout allows parents to keep watchful eye on kids


With so many innovative community parks popping up around central Ohio, it’s a great time to be a kid in the capital city. Sprawling recreation areas, such as North Orange Park in Lewis Center, also make it a great time to be a parent here.

The 36-acre community complex – 25 minutes north of downtown Columbus – contains soccer fields, basketball courts, paved walking trails, a sledding hill and a picnic shelter. The park also has a multi-level playground and a large sand pit, where my young children and I recently spent several hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

We dug our bare feet in the clump-free sand and played on a peculiar seesaw where riders stand on either end and propel themselves off old tires.

What makes the space unique is a small hill near the parking lot. I joined other parents for a seat on the well-manicured grass. From the elevated vantage point, I could watch my children play in the sand below or in the two nearby playgrounds. One playground is designed for toddlers with low slides and a rocking car and alligator.

The park is located at 7560 Gooding Blvd. in the North Orange subdivision. Nearby are restrooms and an 8,500-square-foot outdoor community pool with giant, colorful slides. Even though we couldn’t visit the pool (you need to be a member), it still looked cool from the playground.

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Highbanks

From neat nature center to natural play area, metro park pleases kids


The Highbanks Metro Park in Lewis Center has served me well during my more than 20 years of living in Columbus.

When I was single, I’d often jog around a circular wooded path at the 1,159-acre park, forested with oaks, hickories, aspens and ash trees.

Before getting married, my husband and I would partake in the park’s many free programs, such as evening hikes, where we’d call out to barred owls: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you, all?”

Mike and I recently returned to Highbanks on a pleasant November day with our two young children, Rosie and Max. The outing proved to me that the park is perfectly suited for all ages, but especially for youngsters.

We began our visit at the Nature Center, which features a bird observation window, well-stocked library and neat displays, such as a 30-foot replica of a giant prehistoric fish found in the area.

Rosie and Max enjoyed the interactive activities best, including reaching into drawers to discover stones, feathers and bones. They also discovered a wooden, cutout tree and a cabinet full of hand puppets to create their own stories.

We left the nature center in search of a playground, and we found several, some with only swings, and others with slides and climbing contraptions. We had great fun jumping into piles of leaves near a picnic area that was buzzing with people.

The park has miles and miles of trails for exploring. Some parts overlook the banks of the Olentangy River and have deep ravines cut by glaciers 10,000 years ago. There also are two Native American burial mounds to observe.

Other kid-friendly attractions include a sledding hill and a natural play area, where it’s OK to climb a tree or play in a stream. Families also can take part in free organized activities such as campfires and moonlit hikes.

Highbanks is located at 9466 U.S. 23 N. in Lewis Center. From I-270, take U.S. 23 north about three miles. The entrance is on the left.

Learn more about the 16 central Ohio Metro Parks at www.metroparks.net.

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Sky Zone

Exercise is fun at indoor trampoline park


Jumping is something that my young children love to do. They jump on their beds. They jump on the couch. And, sometimes, they even jump on me.

So the idea of taking them somewhere where they could jump to their little hearts’ content appealed to me.

I heard of a place called the Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Lewis Center, 20 minutes north of Columbus. It’s basically a warehouse-like facility containing a super big trampoline. It has slanted walls that also are trampolines, so you can literally bounce off the walls.

No reservations are required, and jump sessions start every half hour. The activity is appropriate for any age. “If you can walk, you can jump,” said Sky Zone General Manager Elizabeth Foy.

I also learned that Sky Zone can create a special area for toddlers to jump, which made me happy. The idea of my 2-year-old and 4-year-old getting bounced around by bigger kids didn’t sound safe.

Still, participants under the age of 18 must have a waiver signed by a parent or legal guardian. The form is available online and can be downloaded and signed beforehand. The form also is good for one year.

Rosie, Max and I arrived at noon on a Friday and signed up for 90 minutes of jumping. We wore comfortable clothes and socks that covered our ankles. Guests are required to wear special lightweight footwear called “Spider Man shoes.” They come in many sizes, from a child’s size 10 to men’s size 13. Since my children’s feet were smaller than the offered shoes, they went barefoot.

I put my “mom” shoes and purse in a locker, which cost just 25 cents, for safekeeping.

The big trampoline is actually a quilt of smaller trampolines. This makes it possible for two people to jump on neighboring sections and not affect the other’s bounce. Maybe you’ve been on a trampoline before with someone bigger who nearly bounces you off the contraption when they jump up and down. This can’t happen here, as long as you’re on separate squares. There’s also a safety net below, just in case the trampoline rips.

We shared the trampoline with a half dozen others for the first hour, during which we were sometimes separated because of the crowd. But for remaining 30 minutes, we had it all to ourselves, which was awesome.

My advice is that if you want to jump along with your children, have two adults accompany them. This way one adult can watch the kids, while the other jumps. However, when nobody else is on the trampoline, you’re able to jump closer to your children. We were lucky to have 30 minutes of alone time, which was just by chance.

Foy said that if you’re looking for quiet times to bring toddlers, try visiting before older children get out of school, such as at 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and noon to 3 p.m. on Fridays.

All that jumping also made us hungry. We ordered two slices of deep-dish pizza, chips and a drink for $6.

Sky Zone is located at 459 Orange Point Dr., Suite E, in Lewis Center, Ohio. Hours are 3-8 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday; noon-9 p.m. (and 9-11 p.m. for ages 11-15), Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (and 10 a.m. to midnight for those ages 16 and up), Saturday; and noon -8 p.m. on Sunday.

Pricing starts at $6 for 30 minutes of jumping on weekdays ($8 weekends) and goes up to $18 for 120 minutes of jumping on weekends. Group rates are available as are birthday party packages.

For more information, visit www.skyzone.com/columbus.