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.

Scioto Grove Metro Park by Columbus Family Adventures

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.

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.

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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.

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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.