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7 magnificent swings in central Ohio

A look at seven of our favorite swings in the Columbus area


We’ve visited a lot of playgrounds in the Columbus area over the years, and swings remain one of our favorite things about them.

Here’s a look at seven of our favorite swings in central Ohio, from a traditional, tree-hung one at a working farm in Canal Winchester to a comfy bench swing along downtown’s Scioto Mile.

Slate Run Living Historical Farm by Columbus Family Adventures

Slate Run Living Historical Farm

1. Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Canal Winchester is one of 19 metropolitan parks in the Columbus area. It’s part working farm and part tourist attraction, offering visitors a chance to see what it was like to raise animals and crops in the 1880s. Even its wooden swing is a throwback. Hung by rope from an old maple tree, there’s often a line to ride it.

Recreations Outlet by Columbus Family Adventures

Recreations Outlet

2. Children are encouraged to test the merchandise at Recreations Outlet in Powell. The supplier of outdoor play equipment allows children to gleefully bounce, slide, climb and swing on everything in its showroom as adults watch from the sidelines, some moved to purchase what they see their children enjoying.

Scioto Grove Metro Park by Columbus Family Adventures

Scioto Grove Metro Park

3. Scioto Grove Metro Park in Grove City is one of central Ohio’s newest metroparks. The 620-acre park is full of innovative offerings including platforms for tents along a backpacking trail, sleek picnic shelters and a swanky playground with a circular swing that’s a hit among youngsters.

Wickliffe Playground by Columbus Family Adventures

Wickliffe Playground

4. Kids go gaga for Wickliffe Playground at first site. The castle-like playground was built in 1990 with loving care by volunteers at Wickliffe Progressive School in Upper Arlington. Neat features include a tunnel of tires, a portion of a walkway that rocks back and forth, and a section that looks like a locomotive. There also are two tire swings that kids never seem to tire of.

Olentangy Park by Columbus Family Adventures

Olentangy Park

5. Olentangy Park in Worthington offers well-kept tennis courts, a sledding hill, a skate park and access to the Olentangy Trail. Along the multipurpose trail by the skate park is a simple swing with a narrow wooden seat that was still there last time we checked. It’s the kind of swing you feel privileged to happen upon and even more so to glide upon under a sycamore tree.

Whetstone Park by Columbus Family Adventures

Whetstone Park

6. Whetstone Park in Clintonville is home to a handful of city gems, such as the beautiful Park of Roses, access to the Olentangy Trail and a popular playground that sits on a bed of wood chips. Recent additions have given rise to modern equipment including a hammock-like swing that can support a boatload of happy kids.

Scioto Mile by Columbus Family Adventures

Scioto Mile

7. Downtown Columbus really outdid itself when it created the Scioto Mile, a revitalization effort that included revamping Bicentennial Park. Managed by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the park stretches a mile along the Scioto River, extending from the Arena District on the north end of Downtown to Whittier Peninsula on the south. Its greatest achievement, in our opinion, are the bench swings along the path that beg you to relax and take in the city sites.

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Pyramid Hill

Drive golf carts around 300-acre sculpture park in southwestern Ohio


Pyramid Hill: Inspiring outdoor sculpture park in the Miami ValleyWhile recently exploring the Butler County Donut Trail in search of pillowy rings of sugared dough, to our great surprise my family of four also experienced a tasty cultural morsel.

We visited Pyramid Hill, a 300-plus-acre sculpture park in Hamilton, Ohio, on a sunny Saturday afternoon and fell in love with its quirky character and compelling artwork. It presents more than 60 sculptures amid the rolling hills of southwestern Ohio, with the mood ranging from quizzical to thought-provoking.

The park was made possible by Harry Wilks, a local lawyer and philanthropist who purchased the land in the 1990s, saving it from development. Wilks died in 2014.

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The best part was driving a rented golf cart around the pretty property that’s dotted with lakes and gardens. I wasn’t surprised to see a wedding happening near a sculpture called Age of Stone, which brought to mind Stonehenge.

Other notable outdoor pieces included The Cube, a Rubik’s Cube-like structure that spins on its axis, and Paul, a bench that’s missing its midsection. It was amusing trying to take a seat on it.

Pyramid Hill: Inspiring outdoor sculpture park in the Miami ValleyWe were amazed to stumble upon what we considered the highlight of the park: the Ancient Sculpture Museum, a curated collection of artifacts dating to 1500 B.C. that was Wilks’ personal collection before the museum opened in 2009.

The collection includes Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Syrian and Egyptian sculptures. There’s also a wonderful courtyard modeled after a Roman residence.

Pyramid Hill is open 365 days a year and attracts more than 30,000 visitors annually.

It’s located at 1763 Hamilton Cleves Rd., Hamilton. For more information, visit www.pyramidhill.org or call 513-868-1234.

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.

Olentangy Greenway Trail: Fun along a slice of Columbus’ multipurpose trail

Olentangy Greenway Trail

Fun along a slice of Columbus’ multipurpose trail


Bikers, rollerbladers, joggers and dog walkers. All enjoy the Olentangy Greenway Trail. The nearly 14-mile multipurpose trail runs from Worthington Hills in the north to downtown Columbus in the south, cutting through the Ohio State University campus along the way.

The trail is managed by Columbus Metro Parks and meanders alongside the Olentangy River, passing playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, and a skateboard park. It’s flat, nicely paved and well marked.

My family’s favorite sections are at Antrim and Whetstone parks – perfect trailheads for those wanting to investigate this path for the first time.

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Some may be turned off, though, by how crowded this trail gets, especially on weekends, or by the steady hum of traffic along Rt. 315. But if you time your visits wisely and drown out the sound with conversation or music – or pretend it’s the ocean – it’s almost always a pleasant experience.

We recently examined familiar sites while taking what we called a “wagon adventure” along a shaded portion of the trail at Whetstone Park. We started near the entrance to the Park of Roses, where there are bike racks and an air pump.

I pulled Max and Rosie in their wagon even though space is getting a bit tight and they’re getting a bit heavy. The wagon made for short rides and quick stops along the trail and kept them safe from cyclists whizzing by.

We first arrived at the Whetstone Prairie and Native Habitat. They hopped out and investigated a mowed path, between tall grasses, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and sunflowers. Butterflies and dragonflies fluttered about.

They hopped back in for a short pull to a muddy entry near a creek. They foraged around the water, intrigued by a beaver dam. They could have played here all day.

Back in the wagon we rolled north on the trail to a covered walkway that adjoins the path and leads trail-goers over the Olentangy River and Rt. 315. I thought Max and Rosie would enjoy a look at traffic from above. The sight, however, was more frightening than fun for 6-year-old Max.

Back on the Greenway Trail we headed for the duck pond to feed some geese. Then we ventured to the playground where we ate at a nearby picnic table. It was a fine ending to a fun afternoon adventure.

Learn more about the Olentangy Greenway Trail and view maps.

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Note: From August 2015 through the fall of 2016, a portion of the Olentangy Greenway Trail located under I-270 will be closed due to construction on the interstate. Learn more at www.270-23.com.

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.

Westerville Golf Center: Well-manicured miniature golf course suitable for all ages
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Westerville Golf Center

Well-manicured miniature golf course suitable for all ages


A game of miniature golf seems well suited for all ages and occasions. While playing a round with our two children at the Westerville Golf Center, I took a moment to survey the field of players on an warm afternoon in April.

There were timid teens out on dates, rowdy twenty-somethings extending their happy hours, and retirees dressed in their country-club best taking calculated swings amid the course that looks like a small town with wooden houses and white picket fences.

Then there were our children, who like others, carefully selected the colors of their golf balls – green for Max and pink for Rosie – which they soon whacked several times into the water features. They also created their own obstacles by standing like bridges over pathways, enticing one another to knock their ball underneath their opponent’s legs.

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The Westerville Golf Center we’ve found is welcoming – and tolerating – to all audiences big and small, and has been since it opened at the corner of Schrock and Cooper roads in Westerville in 1970.

Before getting married, Mike and I used to practice our golf swings at the driving range. The facility has covered, heated tees, so you can practice year round. Mike would buy a bucket of balls and attempt to teach me how to properly hold a club and consistently hit balls in a straight line. My lessons typically ended with me hitting softballs at the batting cage instead. Now softball’s a game I understand.

Mike now prefers to take Max to the driving range and rekindle with the rest of the family for a game of miniature golf on one of the two 18-hole courses.

Youth golf lessons are available, but Mike learned how to play the game from his dad and hopes to instill the same love of golf in our son.

For now, though, it’s all fun and games.

Cost for mini golf is $4 for children and $6 for adults. Children 2 and younger are free. Deals are offered throughout the week such as play both golf courses for the price of one on Monday and Wednesday.

Spring hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

Westerville Golf Center is located at 450 W. Schrock Rd., Westerville. For more information, visit www.westervillegolf.com.

Marmon Valley Farm: Head to the hills of Logan County for inexpensive, quality pony rides
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Marmon Valley Farm

Head to the hills of Logan County for inexpensive, quality pony rides


Our son, Max, wanted a pony ride for his sixth birthday. But where to find a pony when it’s raining cats and dogs in Columbus? We decided to head to the country, where ponies are more plentiful.

With a little Internet research, we learned that Marmon Valley Farm offers inexpensive, quality pony rides at a 450-acre recreational farm one hour northwest of Columbus in Logan County for kids as young as two. Cost: $5 for 30 minutes.

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We made reservations in advance, so two ponies were saddled up and ready to go at riding time. Marmon Valley has a stable of 150 horses and ponies available for riding in an indoor arena as well as outdoor trail rides through the wooded hills of Logan County.

Max and his sister, Rosie, wore long pants and boots for their adventure. We brought along our own helmets, but they’re available free of charge, if you forget.

Max rode a gentle black pony named Faye and Rosie a spunky chestnut-colored pony named Copper. Parents, or accompanying adults, are taught to lead the ponies. Our instructor showed me how to hold the lead loosely with two hands and not wrap it around one hand in case the pony decided to take off.

These rides aren’t like the kind you find at the fair where children are lifted on a merry-go-round of sad-eyed miniature horses. Mike and I were able to lead the ponies around the arena and encourage our kids to steer with the reins and say “whoa” to stop. No trotting was allowed, though, which was fine for me and Mike.

Marmon Valley has served up farm-fresh fun for more than 50 years. The name “Marmon Valley” pays homage to the first homesteaders who called the valley home in the early 1800s.

Opened in 1964, landowner Bill Wiley dreamt of a farm camp for children, allowing them to experience life on the farm, if only for a week. The camp, held every summer, is Christian based.

It’s free to visit the grounds year round. You can have a picnic, swing on the swings, crawl through indoor hay tunnels and hike the trails. We were able to pet a pig, a goat, a donkey and ponies in the barn. The highlight was cradling baby bunnies in our hands. Their cuteness melts your heart.

Guests can reserve the property for parties and retreats. Barn dances and hayrides also occur throughout the year.

Visit free of charge year round Tuesday through Sunday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.

Horseback riding is available Tuesday through Sunday 1-5 p.m., year round. (Reservations are required December through March and strongly encouraged during other months.) Trail riders must be at least 6 years old. Pony rides are available for kids as young as two.

Other options include group riding lessons for ages six and up for $25 a lesson and a summer horse camp for ages 7 to 17.

Marmon Valley Farm is located at 7754 St. Rt. 292, Zanesfield, Ohio. For more information, call 937-593-8000 or visit www.marmonvalley.com.

Ohio Caverns: See crystal stalactites and stalagmites year round, no matter the weather
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Ohio Caverns

See crystal stalactites and stalagmites year round, no matter the weather


This year we took our son, Max, to a cave for his sixth birthday. Not because he’d been naughty, but because he likes to explore. And, it was raining.

Weather is irrelevant in a cave, where it’s always a reasonable 54 degrees and relatively dry no matter the outside conditions. So we set out for Ohio Caverns, an hour northwest of Columbus near West Liberty. Ohio Caverns is the largest of all the cave systems in Ohio, with 2 miles of surveyed passageways ranging from 30-feet to 103-feet deep. And, it’s open year round.

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These caverns are part of a 35-acre park in Champaign County and a member of the National Caving Association. I’m not sure what that means, but they’re a popular tourist destination that’s been operated by the same family for four generations, since opening as a tourist attraction in 1897.

Ohio Caverns offers several tour options focusing on the geology and history of the area. We took one called the “Natural Wonder Tour” that took us on an hourlong journey through sections of the cave that have white crystal formations.

We learned that the caverns were formed thousands of years ago when an underground river cut through ancient limestone and created vast rooms and passageways that later filled with beautiful crystal stalactites (which go downward) and stalagmites (which go upward).

We also learned not to touch the walls, as our group walked single file through the passageways. Most of the stalactite and stalagmite formations are still active. It can take 500 years for a cubic inch of calcite crystal to form. Touching them can stop the process, as we were warned (maybe a little too often).

Touching them also can discolor the crystals, as we discovered in an area called the Big Room, which has hundreds of formations. One crystal used to be called the “Good Luck Crystal.” As people passed, they’d touch it, leaving behind an ugly brown stain that’s still visible today. In 1926, a no-touching rule was established in the caverns, and the crystal was renamed the “Dirty Crystal.”

We also entered an area called Fantasy Land, where there are bunches of soda straws and helictites, including the Old Town Pump, which resembles a hand pump.

The best part of the tour, though, was seeing the Crystal King. Appearing like a giant, sparkling carrot, it’s the largest free-hanging stalactite in Ohio, measuring 4 feet, 10.5 inches long. It’s estimated to weigh more than 400 pounds and could be more than 200,000 years old.

The tour ends in the Jewel Room, which contains lots of colored crystals, from blue to orange to white to reddish black, making this area great for photos – so great in fact that a camera is set up to take your portrait.

The grand finale of every tour, we learned, is the playing of the song “Beautiful Ohio,” which has been entertaining guests since 1928.

Also on site is a shelter house with picnic tables, and a gift shop full of rocks, fossils and bags of rocks for mining in a sluice.

Daily tours are offered 9 a.m.-5 p.m., May through September, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m., October through April. The caves are closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Natural Wonder Tour costs $17 for adults and $9 for children ages 5-12. There is no charge for children ages 4 and younger.

Ohio Caverns is located at 2210 E. State Route 245, West Liberty, Ohio. For more information, call 937-465-4017 or visit www.ohiocaverns.com.

SportsOhio is located at 6314 Cosgray Rd., Dublin.
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SportsOhio

Spaces for city kids to play inside and out


Playing outside was easy when I was a kid growing up in northeastern Ohio. I simply walked out our front door and explored the world, often following streams wherever they led.

SportsOhio in Dublin offers spaces for city kids to leisurely play inside and out.

SportsOhio is a hundred-acre campus of rec centers with indoor and outdoor areas for soccer, baseball and ice skating. It’s also a fun zone for playing miniature golf, driving go-karts, hitting golf balls and baseballs, and jumping on inflatables.

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Two ways for families to sample what’s available at SportsOhio are during “Open Play Days” on select Fridays throughout the year and at “Phat Fridays” in the spring and summer.

My children and I checked out an “Open Play Day” at the FieldSports building in early April. I signed a waiver and paid $8 apiece for my kids to play for three hours. Rosie and Max went straight for the bounce-house area that included a jump house, inflatable slide and obstacle course.

They jumped, slid and bounced until they were red in their faces, at which point I purchased blue Slushies for them at the concession stand. We then climbed a set of stairs to rows of picnic tables. The perch also served as a lookout post over the vast indoor facility.

We spied ball fields on either side and a fierce game of dodgeball taking place in a court in front of us. Behind that was a basketball court where kids were riding scooter boards across a shiny, wood floor. The most appealing area was a turf-covered field filled with toys normally found outside, like hula hoops, bouncy balls, scooters, frisbees and big-wheeled tricycles.

The three hours zipped by, leaving my kids pleasantly exhausted for the ride home.

We’ll most likely return for “Phat Fridays,” when visitors get unlimited access to outdoor activities such as go-karts, mini golf, inflatables, batting cages and outdoor fields for $15 apiece from 7-10 p.m., beginning April 24.

SportsOhio is located at 6314 Cosgray Rd., Dublin. For more information, call 614-791-3003 or visit www.sportsohio.org. Learn about upcoming “Open Play Days.”

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.