Scioto Grove Metro Park

19th park in central Ohio system shines with streamlined amenities

Scioto Grove Metro ParkThe newest metro park in central Ohio doesn’t have a nature center, traditional swings or even a trash can.

What the Scioto Grove Metro Park in Grove City does have are sleek picnic shelters that appear straight out of an architectural book from the 1960s, a playground that requires kids to climb a tricky web in order to descend its tubular slide, and platforms for tents along a backpacking trail.

Visitors are asked to “carry in and carry out” their trash. Paper bags are provided in unassuming containers attached to posts. The absence of bulky trashcans really streamlines the park and perhaps even keeps wildlife in check.

  • 19th park in central Ohio system shines with streamlined amenities
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The 620-acre park opened along the Scioto River in May 2016. We recently explored its offerings and were taken by its back-to-the-basics approach. I liked seeing people tuned out of electronic devices and tuned into each other and nature.

We saw fathers and sons casting rods into the catch-and-release pond. We saw kids riding Big Wheels on a gravel path. We saw families cooking burgers on charcoal grills and competing in games of corn hole. We even saw a couple having a romantic picnic on one of the overlook decks.

What else can you do at the park? Visitors can hike seven miles of trails, many of which meander alongside the river, where you also can canoe and kayak. Campers are welcome from May through October, and a sledding hill also is available.

Established in 1945, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks operates 19 parks in seven central Ohio counties. The park system protects more than 27,000 acres of land and water and offers year-round recreational and educational opportunities to the public free of charge.

Scioto Grove is located at 5172 Jackson Pike, Grove City. Learn more.

Rocky Fork Metro Park: New Metro Park glimmers with classy touches

New Metro Park glimmers with classy touches

Secondary_Rocky Fork Metro ParkIn New Albany, where the roads are lined with white, picket fences, you’d expect to find public spaces with superb fit and finish. And that’s just what you’ll find at Rocky Fork Metro Park, which opened just north of New Albany in August 2015.

One of 19 central Ohio Metro Parks, Rocky Fork was developed through a partnership among New Albany, the city of Columbus and Plain Township.

Nature does its own work to make this 1,003-acre plot of land attractive. But it’s the details in the man-made construction that makes Rocky Form Metro Park a bit more fashionable.

Fine craftsmanship is especially noticeable in the park’s picnic shelter, where guests will find glossy-topped picnic tables surrounding a two-sided fireplace with stone chimney. Nearby are knotty pine Adirondack chairs.

Kids will like the play area, which has fake boulders to climb and a rolling slide, all set on a squishy surface.

  • Rocky Fork Metro Park
  • New Metro Park glimmers with classy touches
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Parents will appreciate the clean bathrooms. And pet owners will like the off-leash dog trail and dog park with fountains for Fido to cool down.

Other than these few accoutrements, the space is pretty sparse. That’s fine, especially for nature lovers, who’ll find miles of quiet trails for walking, biking and horseback riding.

We enjoyed the North Meadow trail, which meanders one mile around a field that’s abuzz with bees visiting fragrant clover and daisies. Highlights included seeing deer, watching the summer breeze cause the field flowers to sway and finding droves of young frogs hopping across the path toward a cattail-lined swamp.

Rocky Fork Metro Park is located at 7180 Walnut St., Westerville. For more information, visit

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

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.

  • Go for playgrounds, great lake views
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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.

The Orchard and Company: Come for apples, stay for fall festival

Come for apples, stay for fall festival

Time is of the essence at the Orchard and Co., 30 minutes northwest of Columbus in Plain City. This apple orchard and fall-festival destination is limited to August through October.

Go for their apples – a dozen varieties are available for picking, including sweet and juicy Honeycrisp, which ripens in early September.

And go for fall festival days, on Saturdays and Sundays in September and October. They’ve got pumpkins and hayrides – and plenty more attractions.

  • The Orchard and Company
  • Come for apples and annual fall festival
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Our kids found extra fun in an indoor box filled with corn kernels and Tonka trucks, so deep they could bury them. They also enjoyed riding in a tractor-pulled train of connected barrels called the “Moo-Moo Express,” which wound through the orchard. They even jumped on a giant, inflated vinyl pillow.

Other unique attractions include a castle made from straw bales, a racetrack for pedal cars that parents can ride, too, and lots of friendly farm animals. We visited a miniature horse family, miniature goats, pigs, sheep, a cow and rabbits in their own area called Bunnyville.

If you get hungry, visit the Pigadeli Cafe for slow-cooked, pulled-pork sandwiches, sloppy Joes and soup. Or just refuel on fresh pumpkin doughnuts and apple cider.

The Orchard and Co. is located at 7255 US Hwy. 42, Plain City. For more information, call 614-873-0510 or visit

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

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


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

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

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.

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

Zoombezi Bay: Make like you’re on vacation at Midwest’s best waterpark

Make like you’re on vacation at Midwest’s best waterpark

On days when you’re not on vacation, it’s nice to feel like you are on vacation. My family and I recently felt this way on a humid Saturday afternoon while visiting Zoombezi Bay in Powell.

We lounged around in our bathing suits under big umbrellas, staring at cloud formations, while eating giant cookies and sipping Dr. Pepper. We walked barefoot to a massive pool and tackled 4-foot waves. We plopped ourselves into inner tubes and floated down an aqua river with waterfalls and shooting geysers.

In short, we had fun on our regular day off.

  • Zoombezi Bay
  • Make like you’re on vacation at Midwest’s best waterpark
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Zoombezi Bay, which opened in 2008 on the former grounds of Wyandot Lake, is one of the Midwest’s most popular waterparks, attracting more than 400,000 water enthusiasts each year.

Spanning 22 acres, it’s got water slides, a wave pool, manmade rivers and a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket. There are attractions for toddlers including Tiny Tides, where they can splash in shallow water around structures of sea creatures. And there’s Cyclone, a colorful contraption that looks to be straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, where rafters transcend a giant funnel at 20 miles per hour. You must be at least 48-inches tall to ride this one.

The waterpark is owned by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, so admission also includes entry into the zoo. On this particular day, we chose to be entertained by water over gorillas and giraffes.

We quickly learned, though, you can’t dress like a beach bum when roaming the zoo. My daughter wore her swimsuit into the main entrance of the zoo and was told to wrap a towel around herself. Zoo guests are required to wear shirts and shoes until they enter the Zoombezi Bay gates, at which point bathing suits and bare feet are acceptable. We also learned the hard (and hot) way to park closer to the zoo entrance than to the waterpark. You’re not allowed to use the convenient parking lot gate to Zoombezi Bay unless you’re a season pass holder to the waterpark. Your zoo pass won’t work here.

Be sure to bring towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hats, bottled water and a change of clothes. I just wish I would have worn flip-flops, as the pavement got hot quick on my bare feet.

Leave beach umbrellas, goggles, squirt guns and flotation devices at home. Lifejackets are complimentary and available at several locations throughout the park.

We arrived when the waterpark opened at 10:30 a.m. and had our pick of prime seats under a sprawling umbrella and shade trees.

Ramp up your vacation experience by renting a cabana. I envied families who relaxed on shaded chaise lounges, pulled chilled beverages from a mini fridge and ordered their meals from personal attendants.

Save money by bringing a packed cooler – however it will have to stay in a storage area in the zoo. You can get your hand stamped while leaving the waterpark and eat your lunch in a nearby picnic shelter in the zoo then return to the waterpark.

If you must lock up valuables, rentals are available starting at $10 per day. Special activities include “Dive-In Movies” on select Fridays, when you can watch a movie from inside Wild Tides wave pool. (See what’s showing.)

For more information and rates, visit

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

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.

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