Caves at 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.

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Columbus Fire Museum

Slide down brass pole at downtown historic landmark

With the ability to ride in noisy trucks and spray water hoses at fires, it’s no wonder that so many children are fascinated by firefighters.

Youngsters in central Ohio have the perfect opportunity and place to meet the real men and women behind the profession at the Central Ohio Fire Museum & Learning Center at 260 N. 4th St. in downtown Columbus.

Located inside an old fire station, the museum shares the history of firefighting in Columbus through artifacts and a collection of shiny, red trucks. It’s a place where visitors can learn about fire safety while their kids slide down a fire pole and play inside a fire engine.

“You can learn the history of our local fire service going from the bucket brigade to hand-drawn equipment to horse-drawn steamers and motorized equipment,” said Richard Byrd, one of four part-time staffers at the museum.

Built in 1908, Engine House No. 16 is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was retired as a fire station in the 1980s and restored in 1990 with money raised by local firefighters and community sponsors. It opened as a museum in 2002.

“The building is the last house in Columbus originally built for horses,” Byrd said. “It had 10 horse stalls. Three horses pulled the steamer, three pulled the hook and ladder, three pulled the hose, and one pulled the coal wagon that had extra coal for the steamer.”

Visitors can see several of the original stalls, still marked with hoof prints on the doors. About 4,000 people annually visit the museum, mostly children on field trips who come to learn about fire safety.

I recently made the trip with my 4-year-old son, Max, during a birthday party. Max and his friends learned about fire safety from Bill Hall, a retired fireman, and his soon-to-be son in law, “Fireman Mike.”

They watched Fireman Mike suit up in his work gear, slipping on fireproof pants and a jacket, steel-toed boots and gloves. Hall explained that a fireman’s helmet works like an umbrella, allowing water to roll off its rim and away from a firefighter’s body.

Fireman Mike put on a protective mask connected to a tank with 30 minutes worth of oxygen. “He sounds like Darth Vader,” said Max upon hearing Fireman Mike breathe.

Max and I toured the museum, which is predominantly colored red, white, black and gold. We saw a wooden fire truck with a shiny brass bell that’s hooked up to a life-size plastic horse. We also saw cast-iron toys and historic fire hose nozzles.

Max, though, liked the play area the best. He put on a red jacket, helmet and boots, then slid down a mini brass fire pole. He joined the other children inside the front end of a real fire engine, where they turned the steering wheel, flipped on lights and unraveled a fire hose.

I browsed the gift shop and found a firefighter suit perfect for Max.

Future plans are to restore the second floor, formerly used as a hayloft, to increase displays.

Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Cost is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for children.

For more information, visit or call 614-464-4099.

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Play parlor games at Depression-era home, living-history museum

Moms and daughters, dads and sons enter the warm, welcoming farmhouse in Delaware County. A kind volunteer, wearing an apron-covered gingham dress, greets the visitors of Gallant Farm Preserve by making cocoa on a vintage wood stove.

Gallant Farm, a living-history museum at 2150 Buttermilk Hill Rd., opened in October. The recreated farmstead recalls a simpler time during the Depression era, when butter was churned in gallon jugs and clothes were made from feed sacks. Guests can explore a one-story house furnished with period pieces such as an antique Victrola and a Maytag washer. The 19-acre property also has a barn and a fishing pond.

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The farm is located across the street from Gallant Woods Preserve, which offers 2 miles of trails and a sledding hill. The land, originally owned by Charlotte Gallant, is operated by Preservation Parks of Delaware County, which cares for the county’s unique, natural habitats. According to the 2010 census, Delaware County is the fastest-growing county in Ohio.

I recently visited Gallant Farm with my two young children, Rosie and Max, who enjoyed investigating objects in the home. While Max picked up a Mason jar of colorful marbles and poured them onto a braided rug, Rosie tried on lacy hats before a mirrored-dresser in the bedroom. I made myself at home before a Christmas tree decorated with paper snowflakes and garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and topped with a corn-husk angel.

Visitors also can participate in one of the farm’s many educational programs, such as learning how to play Chinese checkers and other board games of the 1930s and ’40s. Our host showed us how to make puppets out of old socks, and dolls from discarded thread spools.

What I didn’t miss was a television or electronic games. But, guests can listen to radio programs, like “The Shadow,” while munching on homemade popcorn balls.

Hours are noon-5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free, although some crafts cost $2 and require preregistration. For more information and to view a schedule of events, visit

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Lose yourself in labyrinth of literature

In an age of electronic books and easy ordering of the written word over the Internet, it’s nice to break away from literary progress by wandering through a good, old-fashioned bookstore.

The Book Loft in the Columbus neighborhood of German Village spans a city block and contains 32 of rooms of literature, organized by topic, including a room full of hand-selected children’s books. It’s billed as one of the largest independent bookstores in the nation, stocking more than 100,000 titles.

My family and I visited the store at 631 S. Third Street while showing my sister-in-law, Mary Jean, around historic German Village. Mary Jean lives in San Francisco, home of the iconic City Lights Bookstore, once a hangout of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Mary Jean, a travel writer and budding novelist, was impressed by the unique selection and interesting, connecting buildings, which were once general stores, a saloon and a nickelodeon cinema.

Sometimes it takes an out-of-towner to remind us of the gems we have in central Ohio. Mary Jean enjoyed exploring the labyrinth of book-filled rooms, while my 5-year-old daughter delighted in following yellow arrows on the ground toward the children’s section. We browsed kiosks of Little Golden Books and shelves of newer titles. But, alas, Rosie settled on an activity book with nifty erasers shaped like desserts.

German Village has long been one of Columbus’ main visitor attractions, and for many tourists and locals, the Book Loft is the village’s main chapter.

For more information, visit

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Shop where teachers get wholesale supplies

I recently discovered the source of the whimsical materials used to construct one of my favorite works of art.

The white canvas, which hangs in my cubicle at work, is smeared with teal glitter paint and accented with glued-on feathers and plastic gems. My 4-year-old daughter made the masterpiece at her preschool.

The teachers purchase their cheerful supplies, including bags of glimmering gems and jars of glitter, at wholesale prices from the Star Beacon Product Co. in Grandview Heights.

Founded in 1936 in Columbus, the business sells arts, crafts and office supplies to local schools and daycare centers. Customers also can visit the store at 1104 W. Goodale Blvd. to get the same deals from the second-generation, family-owned business.

I made my first visit to Star Beacon during my lunch hour to see if I could find an educational toy for one of my daughter’s classmates. Entering the store felt like returning to the now defunct Yankee Trader, a landmark party and novelty store that closed in 2010 after 44 years of business in downtown Columbus.

Although smaller, Star Beacon offers the same type of warehouse environment, with bulk items stocked on shelves in a dizzying array of strange, but wonderful merchandise.

I found bags of plastic googly eyes, pipe cleaners and yarn pompons, just like the stuff I’ve seen at Rosie’s preschool.

I also found items that brought back memories of my childhood art classes – reams of colorful construction paper, sheets of felt, boxes of popsicle sticks and bags of Styrofoam balls.

In addition to bulk items, Star Beacon carries a small selection of gift items, such as a line of Melissa & Doug products, making my gift-seeking outing a success with an extra helping of nostalgia.

For more information, visit

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Young and old will enjoy romping around historic capitol building

When I visit capital cities while traveling about the country I often make it a point to tour their statehouses. Doing so makes it feel as though I’ve stepped inside a state’s living room.

Residing in a capital city myself, I sometimes forget what’s in my own backyard – the beautiful Ohio Statehouse, which represents one of the nation’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture. It’s also one of the oldest working statehouses in the U.S., containing the meeting rooms of the Ohio Legislature.

I visited the Ohio Statehouse with my family on a recent Saturday afternoon, partly because it was free and partly because we had nothing else to do. I came away, though, with a sense of awe of its elegant and functional architecture and a bit more knowledge about our country’s law-making process. My two-year-old daughter, Rosie, exited tired and satisfied that she’d romped around a playground of a building.

The Statehouse is located in the center of downtown Columbus at the corner of High and Broad streets. Parking is available for a reduced rate on weekends in the Statehouse underground parking garage. We entered the building at the ground floor where we were immediately greeted by a network of limestone arches and echoing vaults. “Helloooo,” Rosie called out. The architecture is based on nature’s strongest shape, the circle, which supports the weight of the rotunda above.

The ground level contains the Capitol Café and the Statehouse Museum Shop that’s full of unique, Ohio-themed gift items. The level also contains a floor map of Ohio that depicts the state’s 88 counties in various types and colors of marble. Rosie liked hopping from one county to the next. I liked getting a civics refresher course on how a bill becomes a law in the Education Center, which also features interactive displays and a lovely stained-glass version of the Ohio seal.

We saved the grandest area for last, the Rotunda. The first-floor space features a colorful domed ceiling with a circular center illuminated by the sky. At the ceiling’s epicenter is Ohio’s seal, 120 feet above the floor. I lay down on the patterned marble floor to take a photo, but my photos of the ceiling didn’t look as nice as the postcards in the museum store. The circular room also contains enormous paintings representing conflict, courage and growth throughout Ohio’s history.

The Statehouse was built in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. It underwent a restoration from 1989-1996. The structure is full of symbolism, which you don’t need to understand in order to appreciate its beauty.

Other areas open for touring include the Atrium, made of 300-million-year-old limestone quarried in Columbus, and the Senate and House chambers on the second floor. Outdoor features include monuments, memorials and four cannons.

The Ohio Statehouse is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Free, guided tours are offered daily. Visitors also may wander on their own using a self-guided tour brochure or borrow an audio tour wand. Cell phone audio tours also are available.

Learn more at

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Experience all science center has to offer at fraction of cost

So you’re sitting at home in Columbus on a cold Friday evening with your family wondering what to do for entertainment. Do you roam the clearance aisles at Target yet again? Or do you hang out in the play area at Polaris Fashion Place?

Thanks to downtown Columbus’ Center of Science and Industry, there’s something exciting and affordable to do once a month during COSI’s Family Friday Nights. On the last Friday of each month, guests can explore all the interactive exhibits and educational activities the 320,000 square-foot science center has to offer for $10.95 per person, a fraction of the regular admission price.

COSI Family Friday Nights run from 5-9 p.m. Admission includes all of COSI’s permanent exhibitions and educational activities on three floors, plus a viewing of a movie on the seven-story-high screen. Entry typically costs $32.50 for exhibits, shows and a movie.

Playing with “coffee dough” in KidSpace.

My family of four decided to give a Family Friday Night a try in October. Family nights generally have a theme, and our theme was “spooky science” in celebration of Halloween. The activities included a face-painting station and a magician. There was a good crowd, but it wasn’t overwhelming.

While there, we investigated a first-floor exhibit called Ocean, where kids can shoot water canons at a statue of Neptune, the god of the sea in Roman mythology. We also watched a movie on COSI’s Extreme Screen, which normally costs extra but is included on Family Friday Nights.

We spent the majority of our time, though, in an area designated to preschoolers called Little KidSpace. My two-year-old daughter Rosie unknowingly learned about the force of gravity while making a plastic ball hover over a stream of air. She learned about electricity by flipping a light switch in a kitchen with exposed framing.

COSI is located at 333 W. Broad St.

Plenty of wall-mounted hand sanitizers helped mitigate my concerns about her playing indoors with lots of hands-on activities.

COSI’s employees are more than friendly. In Kidspace, several of them whipped up a batch of “coffee dough” for kids to play with. It felt liked Play-Doh but smelled like coffee and was fun to squish and mold into fun shapes. (See recipe below.)

For $10.95, Family Friday Night can help inspire future inventors and engineers at a friendly price. Now that’s science you can take home.

For more information, visi

COSI opened in 1964 in Memorial Hall, and has since welcomed nearly 20 million visitors from all over the world. The science center moved to its current location at 333 W. Broad St. in 1999, and celebrated its tenth year there on Nov. 6. Regular hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m. For more information and additional discounts, call 614-228-2674 or visit


4 cups un-sifted, all-purpose flour
¼ cup instant coffee
1 cup salt
1 ½ cups warm water

Dissolve coffee in warm water. In another bowl, mix flour and salt. Make a hole in the mixture and pour one cup of the coffee water into it. Mix with a fork or hands until smooth. Add more coffee water if needed. (Dough should be smooth and satiny.) Store in plastic bag to prevent dough from drying. Mold into fun shapes. Finished designs can be baked in a 300-degree oven for 1 hour (until hard). Add two coats of shellac to preserve.

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Metro park pleases families and birds

Whittier Peninsula was never a place to take your kids. For decades, the 160-acre tract of land located south of downtown Columbus was a mangled mess of junked cars, buried trash and sewer water.

But things are different now – thanks in part to the birds that annually migrate through the Scioto River headland.

Nesting herons and dozens of other species of native Ohio birds inspired Columbus, Franklin County Metro Parks and the Ohio chapter of the National Audubon Society to reclaim the land that was once a city dump. They transformed it into the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, a 72-acre urban playground with walking trails, a picnic area and bird-watching decks, and a 35-foot outdoor climbing wall.

The park’s centerpiece is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, which opened this summer at 505 W. Whittier St. The state-of-the-art building, made possible by a $4 million gift from Grange Insurance, features a 200-seat auditorium, classrooms for nature-based learning and an observation room with birding books and binoculars for viewing birds. The 18,000 square-foot center also meets LEED certification, so it’s ecologically sustainable, too.

The center offers hands-on educational programs, said to be a valuable resource for the nearby urban schools. Students will learn bird banding, data collection and mathematical analysis while observing the weather, plants and wildlife.

The center also offers a variety of public programs based on community suggestions such as urban stargazing, bat watching, nature photography, canoe trips and family movie nights.

For more information, visit

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