Lawn seats score home run for legroom


It took nearly all summer, but my family and I recently visited the new Huntington Park, where the Triple-A Columbus Clippers play. After spending time there, I can understand why many of the games are sellouts. It’s a beauty of a brick ballpark and a great place for a family night out.

Huntington Park, nestled in the vibrant Arena District within a deep fly of Nationwide Arena, opened this spring as a replacement for Cooper Stadium. That west-side venue was built in the 1930s and had seen its day. Huntington Park’s opening coincided with the Clippers’ new affiliation as the top farm team of the Cleveland Indians.

It’s made quite a splash. It was recently named the “2009 Ballpark of the Year” by BaseballParks.com. Huntington Park can seat 10,100 fans, and the bells and whistles are amazing for a minor league park:

• There are plenty of places for fans to roam, including 1,200 lawn, picnic and standing room positions.
• Seating includes 32 suites and 42 loge boxes behind home plate.
• You can even watch the game through fencing along Nationwide Boulevard without paying to get in.
• There’s a 110-seat club bar on the second level behind home plate, another long bar in the outfield building and a rooftop terrace with plenty of seating and food by Rooster Wings.
• The outfield has a fountain for kids to play in. Lockers are available in the Left Field Building to store a change of clothes.

We found that one of the best places for families with young children to enjoy the new stadium is in a lawn seat. It’s considered General Admission and costs $7 for adults and $4 for seniors and children ages 12 and younger. Our infant son got in free and slept most of the game.

The lawn section is filled on a first-come-first-serve basis. Fans can bring their own blankets, but folding chairs are prohibited. Coolers, glass bottles and cans aren’t allowed either, but you can bring small bags or backpacks of food items and beverages in plastic bottles. Strollers also are permitted, but shouldn’t obstruct other fans’ view or block passageways of other guests. Cameras and camcorders also are welcome.

Don’t forget to bring your glove, baseball cap and sunglasses. The sight of the setting sun over the other side of the ball field nearly blinded us until about the fourth inning. Foods and beverage costs were a little high for a minor-league game, more in line with going to a Blue Jackets hockey game rather than hanging out in Cooper Stadium.

Gates open 90 minutes before the start of the game. That’s when we arrived and found a $5 parking spot nearby. Arriving early also provided prime pickings on the grass patch. We laid our blanket down and enjoyed the view of the new stadium with a fine view of downtown Columbus.

Huntington Park has several levels of ticket prices and specials. Refer to www.columbusclippers.com for more details. If you can’t go to the park in person to buy tickets you can purchase them through TicketMaster or the Clippers’ ticket office at 614-462-2757.

For more information, visit www.huntingtonparkcolumbus.com.

Property provides great view of Lake Erie, many amenities for families


My family recently stayed at the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake during a weekend getaway from Columbus to northeastern Ohio. We expected that Ohio’s newest lodge would provide a home base as we explored the area’s many tourist attractions, but the five-year-old lodge wound up being a destination in itself.

With its calming views of Lake Erie, generous offerings for families and easy access to a multipurpose trail that leads to a public swimming beach, there was little reason to wander off this reservation.

The Lodge is located at 4888 North Broadway (State Rt. 534) in the village of Geneva on the Lake, 185 miles northeast of Columbus. The area has long been a vacation destination for Ohioans and visitors from neighboring states. People are drawn by Lake Erie, fun activities to do on a mile-long stretch of Rt. 534 called “the Strip,” and Ashtabula’s many covered bridges.

The Lodge is located within walking distance of many of these activities. We ventured out by car only twice in three days.

The Lodge offers 109 rooms, including seven, two-room suites. Many of them have views of the lake, and all have high-speed, wired Internet access.

We stayed in a family room on the third floor. The room overlooked Lake Erie and the outdoor swimming pool, and had two beds and a set of bunk beds. Water is a big theme at this lodge. The outdoor pool area has a hot tub and water jets that kids can run through. The Lodge also offers a glass-enclosed indoor pool with a panoramic view of the lake. We were told that guests like to hang out there in wintertime when the lake freezes.

Our room was aptly decorated with paintings of local covered bridges. There are 17 in the area including a new one that’s 613-feet long. It’s called the Smolen-Gulf covered bridge and is considered to be the longest in the country. (A good time to visit the area is during the Covered Bridge Festival in October.)

The Lodge has a spacious lobby with a four-story fireplace and two restaurants. Horizons Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering wines from northeast Ohio wineries. The Terrace Grille offers outdoor dining and entertainment.

My husband was surprised to discover that the lodge offers spa services, something that’s rare for a state-affiliated facility. The lodge also has a fitness area, a game room and an ice cream shop that’s open during the afternoon.

The lodge grounds are spacious and beautiful. It includes many tall trees and a spacious grassy, lawn with volleyball net, horseshoe pitch and children’s playground. We had an impromptu picnic near the lake, munching on pizza we purchased along the Strip.

The lodge wasn’t perfect. We found it to be somewhat short staffed, although thankfully it didn’t cause any major inconveniences.

My favorite part of the visit was selecting a bike from the rack and riding on the recently paved multipurpose path. The trail meanders alongside Lake Erie, past a picturesque boat dock, through the woods and to the Geneva State Park, where there’s a 300-foot swimming beach.

For more information, visit www.thelodgeatgeneva.com.

Lakeside town offers splendid sunsets, sentimental ‘Strip’


Think beach towns, and some famous locales spring to mind, such as Virginia Beach, Coney Island and Myrtle Beach.

But Ohioans can enjoy a quirky little beach town of their own without having to climb aboard an airplane or spend hours upon hours behind the wheel.

If you’ve still got time before the chaos of school consumes your life, consider taking a road trip three hours northeast of Columbus to Geneva on the Lake, where summer is in full session. The village, along the shores of Lake Erie in Ashtabula County, bears the look of an ocean-side town, with a boardwalk-style row of shops, arcades, eateries and beer joints juxtaposed against the serenity of the lake.

Geneva on the Lake was established in 1869 and has long been a vacation destination for Ohioans and visitors from neighboring states. There are plenty of reasons to seek it out today.

First of all, there’s the lake. The raised elevation of the village affords picturesque views of Lake Erie and the water sports that go on there, especially at sunset. Powered boats pulling water skiers zoom by while delicate sailboats glide across the sparkling horizon. A popular public beach in Ashtabula County is at the Geneva State Park. It has a 300-foot swimming beach with doable sand. I say doable because you can walk barefoot on it or build a sand castle, but its also full of stones.

Another great place to experience the beauty of the lake is to schedule a stay at the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake. The property is owned by Ashtabula County and is adjacent to the state park. It’s operated by Delaware North Corp., which specializes in running large parks, such as Yosemite National Park and Niagara Falls State Park.

The real fun is kicking around Lake Street, or Rt. 531, which is lined by cottages and a funky collection of stores. The mile-long main drag, known up here as “the Strip,” isn’t exactly upscale. It’s where bikers can mix with families or a gaggle of girls out on a bachelorette party.

There’s a water slide and a Ferris wheel located on the strip, vestiges of the old Erieview Park, which is now closed. There also are plenty of fun places to eat, including the ’50s-style Eddie’s Grill, where you can get foot-long hot dogs and fries, or Capo’s Pizza, which has been dishing out tasty slices since 1965.

Another fun family spot is Adventure Zone, near the lodge. It’s got a go-kart track, a climbing wall, miniature golf, bumper boats, batting cages, arcade games and a nifty, metal carousel from Erieview Park.

If you drive through Geneva, stop off at Arthur & Lloyd’s, a renovated pharmacy that has a fun soda fountain, a wine bar and a room where the old apothecary is on display. It’s also got a great selection of old-fashioned candies. The sugar boost also will come in handy for your journey back to Columbus.

For more information, visit www.visitgenevaonthelake.com.

 Inn welcomes families seeking escape to solitude


Talk about remote. Murphin Ridge Inn sits along a gravel road atop a mountain ridge in the Appalachian foothills in southwest Ohio. The inn’s closest neighbors are the residents of a small, Adams County Amish community. And although Murphin Ridge has wireless Internet connection in six cabins and a small television in the gathering room, most people come here to get away.

“Our guests tell us over and over again, they come here to rest, relax, read, walk and cuddle up,” says innkeeper Sherry McKenney, who with husband, Darryl, bought the inn in 1997. “So we offer little extras.”

The inn has been in operation since 1989. Located on 142 acres of farmland and forest, it offers a guesthouse with 10 rooms and an outdoor pool, and nine cabins outfitted with a fireplace, whirlpool tub, two-person shower and porch.

An 1828-built farmhouse features four dining rooms with original fireplaces and a kitchen where gourmet meals and fresh-baked desserts are whipped up.

Executive Chef Jackson Rouse brings many years of experience in fine dining, most recently at the Iron Horse Inn in Cincinnati, and he likes to feature local in-season foods. The property has a garden where the innkeepers grow fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Murphin Ridge also has a 2.5-mile hiking trail that leads past working Amish farms where visitors can view the Appalachian foothills, enjoy the night sky by the bonfire or visit nearby Serpent Mound State Memorial.

For more information, visit www.murphinridgeinn.com.

Cabins offer respite for weary city folk


Energized by cups of Starbucks consumed during an hour’s drive from Columbus, we barge through the front door of a cabin in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio.

We spy a kitchen stocked with dinnerware and utensils, a cozy bed smothered in wooly blankets, fresh chocolate chip cookies on an antique table, and a sign above the kitchen sink that advises: “Welcome, relax, renew.”

What? No television, phone or Internet?

Technological withdrawal is our fate, or perhaps our luxury, inside the cozy cabin at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, where we can temporarily escape the noise of the city. We sit on a comfortable couch before the fireplace and watch 2-year-old Rosie dance to country music playing on a local radio station. We flip through photographs we’ve snapped months earlier and never taken the time to appreciate. We cuddle, talk and laugh.

Although disconnected, we feel reconnected.

Ohio’s inns allow families to rediscover what’s important in their lives. Whether it’s a cabin in the woods or a hilltop inn in a small town, opportunities abound for central Ohioans to find solitude a short drive from home.

Wedged into a steep hillside near Cedar Falls and Old Man’s Cave amid Hocking Hills State Park, the 22-year-old Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls combines rustic living with cutting-edge luxury. The 75-acre property includes a nine-room inn, five cabins and 12 cottages. Adjacent to the inn is a log house that includes a fine-dining restaurant attached to a newly-built conference center, tavern, gathering room and rooftop garden. Guests who need them can find Internet access and a big-screen TV here.

The Inn also includes a spa where therapists offer massages and an array of body treatments in a small building tucked away from the main road.

Innkeepers Ellen Grinsfelder and Terry Lingo have steadily added to the inn, which was the vision of Grinsfelder’s mother, who passed away in 1991. The inn owes much of its attraction to the friendliness of the innkeepers, who met and married shortly after the inn opened.

“The Hocking Hills area is very kid-friendly,” Grinsfelder says. “Having kids of our own, we know that the family component is really important.”

For more information, visit innatcedarfalls.com.

Metro gardens offer magical places for kids to explore


Inniswood Metro Gardens in the Columbus suburb of Westerville is a scenic nature preserve that’s delightfully kid-friendly. The 121-acre site at 940 S. Hempstead Rd. contains colorful flower gardens, easily navigable walking trails and – best of all – a children’s area where kids are encouraged to frolic about a storybook maze and a secret garden.

I recently took my daughter Rosie to Inniswood to escape the summer’s heat. We headed for one of the park’s six walking trails, some of which wind through the woods. We walked along a boardwalk trail called Frog Talk Walk that extends a tenth of a mile and ventures through the woods, past an herb garden and alongside a small pond where you’re sure to see and hear a frog or two. The path is especially good for toddlers because the boardwalk has raised sides to deter them from wandering off. The path also is great for strollers.

Rosie and I then walked among the park’s 10 feature gardens that showcase more than 2,000 species of plants and flowers, some of which attract big, bold-colored butterflies. The Woodland Rock Garden features a cascading waterfall that rushes down a manmade stream alongside a winding path. It’s a favorite spot for picture taking.

Children will enjoy the Sisters’ Garden, named in honor of Grace and Mary Innis, whom the park is named after. The sisters lived on part of the property before it was turned into a park in 1972. They enjoyed gardening and wildlife, and their joys have been translated into a magical place for kids to explore. They can walk across a wobbly bridge, investigate marbles inside a wall of the secret garden or cool off in a misty spray at the garden’s entrance. They’ll also enjoy climbing a ladder into a tree house and playing in Granny’s House, which is a miniature-sized playhouse that has furniture and portraits of frogs painted on the walls.

Inniswood is open daily from 7 a.m. to dark.

For more information, visit www.inniswood.org.

Tasty treats served in true 1950s fashion


My family often visits St. Clairsville, Ohio, my husband’s hometown two hours east of Columbus. We like to break up the drive by stopping halfway in Zanesville to visit Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl.

The restaurant, at 532 McIntire Ave., features ice cream that’s freshly made on the premises. Tom’s also sells an assortment of nuts and chocolates by the pound. The nuts are roasted in the store, and the chocolates come from Ben Heggy’s Fine Chocolates of Canton.

Owned by longtime employee Bill Sullivan, Tom’s is a throwback to the 1950s. Outside it’s a plain building, and I do mean plain. But inside it’s ultra hip with original ’50s furnishings including yellow Formica tables, steel-frame chairs, pebble-tile floor and freezers that were made more than a half-century ago.

But before you think that Tom’s is some kind of fancy eatery that’s all dolled up to look old, think again. Those white, button-down shirts and black bow ties that the male employees wear are legit.

“We’re not retro. We’re the real thing,” Sullivan said.

Tom’s serves lunch and dinner including soups, sandwiches, side dishes, sodas and phosphates. But it’s the ice cream, candy and roasted nuts that keep us coming back.

On a recent stop I ordered the banana split, and the sloppy masterpiece was like nothing I’d ever seen. My server started by slicing a banana into disks and slapping them into the bottom of a soup bowl. He covered the bananas with a stack of three scoops of ice cream – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. He finished by topping the mini tower with a ladle full of marshmallow sauce.

Sullivan explained that many of the ice cream dishes come in soup bowls (and hence the name of the restaurant) because a customer way back in the ’50s was making a mess using a dish. He asked for a bowl, and the tradition was born.

For more information, visit www.tomsicecreambowl.com.

See how buckeye candies are made at candy company


Bang. Hiss. Bang. Hiss.

Noise making doesn’t conjure images of creamy peanut butter and chocolate buckeye candies. But those sounds resonate at the Anthony-Thomas Candy Co. factory on the west side of Columbus, where the 57-year-old company makes batches of 160,000 of the delectable treats at a time. Gloved workers at the end of an assembly line release the shiny, chocolate gems from plastic molds with a bang on the countertop, creating a beat that interplays with a hiss of air from a compressor amid the machinery. The smell of warm chocolate wafts through the building.

Anthony-Thomas’ candy version of the buckeye nut is produced year-round, but it’s not until fall, when the Ohio State University football team takes the field that the candies are most appreciated. Chocolate buckeyes go hand-in-hand with a Buckeyes game like hot dogs go with baseball.

“The buckeye is our No. 1-selling piece of candy,” says Joe Zanetos, Anthony-Thomas Candy Co.’s president.

Zanetos, who’s led the company since 1993, says Anthony-Thomas has been making buckeyes for about eight years, at an estimated annual rate of more than 2 million.

“We calculated that if we put the buckeyes end to end we could stretch them all the way from Columbus to Zanesville,” Zanetos says.

At first, Anthony-Thomas made its buckeyes by hand for special orders. But the process was too labor-intensive for mass merchandising. As demand increased, the company invented a more efficient, automated method. Think conveyor belts and large steel funnels.

The buckeyes are made upside down. The system starts with an empty tray that has 40 molds – one per buckeye. Trays are transported by conveyor belt, stopping at different stations along the way.

At the first stop, a dab of peanut butter mix is automatically squirted into the bottom of each mold. The light brown blob eventually becomes the buckeye’s characteristic top.

The tray then goes through a cooling tunnel, followed by a pause at a filling station where each mold is filled with milk chocolate. The try is then flipped over to dump out the excess chocolate, leaving a chocolate lining in the mold.

Next comes more cooling followed by a stop at the depositor, where the shell is filled with the bulk of the peanut butter concoction. After more cooling, the candies are squired on the bottom by chocolate.

Zanetos’ grandfather Thomas founded the chocolatier in 1952 along with his father, Anthony. The two combined their first names to create the company’s moniker. In addition to buckeyes, Anthony-Thomas makes boxed chocolates, fudge, brittle, caramel corn and roasted nuts. Specialty items include peppermint bark at Christmas and chocolate eggs at Easter.

Guests can tour the Anthony-Thomas factory, 1777 Arlingate Lane, for free every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. To schedule a tour appointment for large groups, call 877-226-3921.

For more information, visit www.anthony-thomas.com.