Blendon Woods Natural Playground: Creative play encouraged in forested nook of Metro Park

Creative play encouraged in forested nook of Metro Park

The best places to play are those where you can use your imagination, as we did during a recent visit to the Natural Playground, a 10-acre space at Blendon Woods Metro Park in Westerville.

As we climbed on a net amid trees, we pretended to cling to a spider’s web, hot lava bubbling beneath our feet. We then scurried across a log bridge as angry trolls threw mud pies at us. Later, we hopped on a hillside zip line, narrowly escaping the clenches of a make-believe forest beast.

There are intentionally no posted rules or regulations at the Natural Playground to hinder creative play. If you want to leap from a vine while pounding your chest like Tarzan, go for it. There’s a vine for doing just that.

There’s also a teeter totter made out of two hunks of wood, a pile of limbs for building forts and fairy houses and a train made of logs.

The park opened in May 2017, inspired by the bond between a little girl named Maris and her dad, Tim, who’d frequented Blendon Woods. Tim Zugaro died in a car accident in 2016. Tim’s wife, Michele, contributed donations from his funeral to build the play area.

Memories of Tim abound, including a couple of wooden posts that read Tim’s Teeter and Zugaro Zip.

The space is delightfully unstructured, a place where kids are encouraged to get off the trodden path to play in the dirt and climb trees.

Learn more about Blendon Woods.

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Franklin Park Conservatory adds stunning attraction to its natural surroundings

Well before the first shovel of dirt was turned for its new children’s garden, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens asked kids what would make the place a success.

Their answer: Rainbows, waterfalls and room to climb.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden has that in abundance, as well as a fairy garden and library, a straw bale playhouse, a wetlands display, a sandstone bluff, a rope bridge, even a human-sized cardinal’s nest. When it opens on May 19, the children’s garden will highlight an expansion of the conservatory’s downtown grounds that was years in the making.

Well-established as a premier floral attraction that caters mainly to adults, the conservatory, founded in its present form in 1993, now has the goods to make kids think twice about spending an afternoon tied to a screen.

“Children don’t get outdoors as much as they used to,”says Jenn Wilson, the conservatory’s marketing director. “We wanted to reduce the screen time they have and replace it with more green time. Our goal was really to connect with kids on a natural level. We want them to use their imagination again.”

The conservatory set aside $5.7 million to build the garden, which was designed by Terra Design Studios of Pittsburgh. It covers 2 acres on the conservatory’s 40-acre campus (an adjoining 48 acres owned by Columbus makes up Franklin Park) and offers 16 galleries all with unique perspectives on nature.

While the garden takes advantage of existing flora, including a majestic mulberry tree, the conservatory added an astounding 19,000 new plants to bring it to life. “This is the largest botanical project the conservatory has undertaken,” Wilson says.

The garden will be staffed from April through October, so there’ll be plenty of regular educational offerings, such as a community garden that will allow participants to plant, cultivate, harvest and prepare vegetables.

We previewed the children’s garden a few days before it was set to open. Here are the highlights:


Kids love rainbows, so the first thing visitors will see is a rainbow arch made up of 56 stained glass panels. It’s a nod to Columbus’ reputation as the “Arch City,” thanks to the metal arches that stretched over some of its downtown streets. In each pane, embedded crystals will sparkle in the sun, and rainbows will appear on the ground.

The garden’s rainbow welcome terrace includes seating walls embedded with glass to mimic rainbows. Nearby, boulders will emit a rainbow-colored mist when the sun shines just right.


A highlight of the garden is a 150-foot-long sandstone creek built for wading when the weather turns warm. It includes a boardwalk perched above a wetlands exploration area, which is actually a small water retention pond.

Kids will learn about environments and life cycle by observing the critters sure to make a home in the pond.

Room to climb

One of the first attractions you’ll see after passing through the rainbow arch is a canopy walk, a covered walkway from which kids can spot a spotted salamander design in the concrete. Further exploration along the canopy walk will bring them to the human-sized cardinal’s nest, steadfastly weaved by conservatory staff. Nearby is a hammock lounge, hovering over a garden of plants below.

The conservatory’s believes the children’s garden will help double its annual paid attendance of 100,000.

“Since the conservatory was founded 25 years ago, much of the experience has been confined to the building itself,” she said. “We do 500 educational classes and about 450 events throughout the year. All those things were competing in a three-acre building. We had a great need to expand outward.”

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden is located at the Franklin Park Conservatory, 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43202.

The park is open daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission to the children’s garden is included with admission to the conservatory. Cost: ages 13-59, $18; age 60 and over, $15; ages 3-12, $11; under 3, free. Call 614-715-8000 to learn more.

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Search for pixie portals while discovering downtown Dublin’s quaint shops

Be it beer, wine, doughnuts or chocolate, we’re suckers for organized trails. So when I recently learned of a fairy trail in downtown Dublin, my daughter, Rosie, and I made plans to check it out.

The Irish Fairy Door Trail was created in 2016 by the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau as a fun way to highlight the independent businesses in downtown Dublin. Trail guides are available online or can be picked up in person at the Dublin Visitor & Information Center at 9 S. High St. The center is open daily from 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

Eight small, glitter-encrusted doors have been hidden inside an equal number of businesses in the historic downtown area. It’s up to participants to find them and take note of the fairy’s name that’s been attached to each. Jot down the names of the fairies found at six of the eight participating stores on your passport to earn an Irish Fairy Door Trail T-shirt. Completed passports can be slipped into a box inside the visitor’s center.

The real prize, Rosie and I discovered, was spending time together exploring the unique stores. I drank coconut-flavored coffee and devoured sea-salt caramels at Winans of Dublin. Rosie found a shamrock-spotted rubber duck at Ha’Penny Bridge Imports of Ireland and a comfortable seat in a giant Teddy bear at the Dublin Toy Emporium.

Here is the full list of participating stores at the time of our adventure:

Learn more about Dublin’s Irish Fairy Door Trail.

Also check out Dublin’s new Celtic Cocktail Trail, and Dublin’s Art in Public Places Tour.

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