Take children to pick their own strawberries

A hankering for fresh strawberries recently led our family of four to Jacquemin Farms, 20 minutes from Columbus in Plain City, Ohio.

My husband, Mike, wanted some sun-ripened berries to flavor a batch of homemade ice cream. We also thought collecting the strawberries together would make a fun family outing.

A quick search on the Internet revealed a number of pick-your-own strawberry farms in central Ohio. We selected Jacquemin Farms, 7437 Hyland Croy Rd., which has a three-acre, pick-your-own strawberry patch that includes five varieties of the juicy red berries.

Unseasonably warm weather has caused the strawberries to ripen ahead of schedule. Strawberry picking times at Jacquemin Farms are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, through the end of June.

Founded in 1987, Jacquemin Farms offers fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a small retail shop with home-style jams and jellies, and freshly fried doughnuts with strawberry glaze.

Almost all the crops sold in the shop are grown on the farm including strawberries, peas, red raspberries and pumpkins, all of which can be freshly picked by customers. Other crops, such as apples, peaches, cherries and blackberries, come from nearby farmers.

We arrived on a sunny Saturday morning ready to pick just enough berries for our ice cream. At a cost of $2 per pound, we grabbed two, one-quart containers to fill ourselves. The total cost, with a couple of strawberry slushies for the kids, was five bucks.

We were directed to a row of strawberries and asked to stay in our row. We were encouraged to eat and enjoy fresh-picked berries as we filled our containers.

A sign says that children must stay within 10 feet of their berry-picking elders. It also says not to step on the plants, words that I had to repeat several times to my children.

You can take as long as you’d like picking your berries, kneeling on the straw-covered mud walkways. Our chore was completed in about 30 minutes.

I enjoyed being out in the sunshine pinching berries fresh from the vine and seeing so many others doing the same.

Mike thought the berries were kind of small, but I liked them because they tasted much better than the giant, unnatural-looking ones you see nowadays in the supermarket. The bite-size gems produce 10 times the flavor as their counterparts and are perfect for homemade strawberry ice cream.

For more information, visit www.jacqueminfarms.com. For current information on what’s ready to pick and when, follow Jacquemin Farms on Facebook or call 614-873-5725.

The farm is open through October.

State park pleases with resort-like property, particulars

After a full day of touring covered bridges in Ashtabula County, my family and I stayed the night at Punderson State Park in Newbury, Ohio, before heading back home to Columbus.

We arrived on a foggy afternoon in early May. Daffodils and red bud blooms lit up the gloomy weather and the sight of the park’s English Tudor mansion was something out of the movies. A concrete statue of a gargoyle perched atop a ball near the entrance added considerable intrigue.

Is this really an Ohio State Park, or the scene of a Sherlock Holmes mystery?

It’s certainly a park. Tucked away in rural Geauga County, Punderson is one of the eight state parks in Ohio that have a lodge. There are 26 cottages available near Punderson Lake, a 150-acre body of water that has one boat launch and 18 seasonal docks for rent. The park offers boating, hiking trails, camping, fishing, tennis, and golf at a Jack Kidwell-designed, 18-hole course. Punderson also is a fine location during the winter for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

The lodge was named after Lemuel Punderson, the local township’s first settler in 1808. The manor house took about two decades to build and was completed in 1948.

After the Ohio Department of Natural Resources took over the lake and surrounding area in 1951, the manor house was renovated into a lodge and opened in 1956. It was renovated in 1982.

The Punderson lodge apparently has been the site of several ghost sightings, but I tried not to think about that. We didn’t see or hear any ghosts, nor was I looking for their company.

We did, however, encounter a friendly host at dinner. A restaurant inside the manor offers fine dining overlooking the picturesque lake. The dining area appeared reserved for honeymooners and solitude seekers, not parents with two cranky kids. But our waitress made us feel at ease, assuring us that we were just as welcome.

Mike ordered blackened prime rib, and I had a slice of splendidly prepared halibut. Our children enjoyed grilled-cheese sandwiches with wedges of watermelon.

Afterward, we retired to our room for a ghost-free night’s sleep in a room in the manor.

In the morning, the restaurant serves a full Sunday buffet, which smelled delicious as Rosie and I made our way down the hall toward the indoor pool for a quick dip. Large windows along two walls provide a great view of the natural lake, which was formed during the Ice Age.

Rain kept the children and me indoors, but it didn’t stop my husband from awakening at 7 a.m. and playing a round of golf. He said he got 15 holes in before it started raining hard.

What impressed me most was the cleanliness and seclusion of the park. It felt more like we were at a private resort. As a manor house, the lodge doesn’t have soaring ceilings or a great lobby sitting room. There’s a winding staircase that leads to some rooms. We went upstairs and discovered a small room, tucked away, that’s used as a library.

Punderson is one of eight state park lodges that participate in the “Stays for As” program, which rewards students of any age for good grades. Just show proof of an “A” on a report card, and receive $10 off the published room rate. Only one report card per room may be applied for the discount of up to $50 off.

Other participating parks include Burr Oak, Deer Creek, Hueston Woods, Maumee Bay, Mohican, Salt Fork and Shawnee. (The only other state park lodge is the Lodge at Geneva.)

For more information, visit www.ohiostateparklodges.com or call 1-800-282-7275.

Dawes Arboretum: Explore 1,800 acres of plants, trees at Newark nature preserve

Explore 1,800 acres of plants, trees at Newark nature preserve

I’ve driven by the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, many times while traveling to and from my husband’s hometown two hours east of Columbus. I’d often think to myself, “One day I’m going to visit that place.”

I recently fulfilled that desire on a hot weekday in July, driving the 30 miles from Columbus to explore the arboretum’s 1,800 acres. I found an abundance of plant collections and gardens in an attractive, rustic setting.

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  • Explore 1,800 acres of plants, trees at Newark nature preserve
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My first stop was the visitor’s center, where I picked up a map. There are 8 miles of hiking trails and a 4-mile auto trail looping around the property. I decided to walk the auto trail, part of which was closed for grounds maintenance. I put my son in his stroller, and we ambitiously set out to explore the more than 16,000 plants and trees.

At times the place looked like a cross between a golf course and a cemetery. It was spacious, well manicured and peaceful. I felt a little guilty walking all over what seemed like private property. But I adhered to the arboretum’s motto: “Explore. Experience. Enjoy.”

There were surprises at every turn. Colorful butterflies landed on white hydrangea. Geese squawked alongside a lake with an island, which was accessible via a bridge. Closely planted shrubs spelled out the words “Dawes Arboretum.”

Other highlights included a seasonal garden, a cypress swamp and a Japanese garden with a serene lake and stepping-stones. They say the Japanese garden is especially beautiful in the spring, when the cherry trees are in bloom. (View the flowering schedule here.)

Beman and Bertie Dawes founded the arboretum in 1929. The couple loved trees and nature, and lived on the property with their five children.

Beman Dawes became wealthy while working in the gas and petroleum industry. He was the founding president of the Ohio Cities Gas Co., which later was known as the Pure Oil Co.

Bertie Dawes loved gardening, fishing, bird watching and photography. Both died in the 1950s. The Arboretum continues its founders’ mission of education, conservation, research and maintaining plant collections for the public to enjoy.

The property is huge, but I conserved enough energy to climb a 36-foot observation tower to view the “Dawes Arboretum” hedge lettering. Measuring 2,040 feet long, it’s one of the largest of its kind in the world. Beman Dawes thought it would be an interesting landmark for pilots as they arrived and departed nearby Port Columbus Airport.

Mission accomplished.

Dawes Arboretum is located at 7770 Jacksontown Rd. SE in Newark. It’s free to visit and open 7 a.m. to dusk every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Visitors Center is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Guests are welcome to picnic on the property, except near the Japanese Garden. Dogs, on leashes, also are welcome.

Tours of the Daweswood House Museum are offered weekends at 1:30 and 3 p.m. and cost $2 for adults, $1 for children.

For more information, visit www.dawesarb.org or call 800-443-2937.

Thousands flock to majestic grounds each spring for colorful blooms

Every spring people want to know when they can witness the full splendor of 20,000 tulips at Kingwood Center, a former estate that’s now a 47-acre public park in Mansfield, Ohio.

Tulips have been Kingwood’s main attraction since the grounds opened to the public in 1953, one year after the death of property owner Charles Kelley King. The annual display draws thousands from around the state. Many visit on Mother’s Day. Some pack picnic lunches and plop down on the lawn with their families for a peaceful afternoon among the spring bloomers.

In truth, predicting when Kingwood’s tulips will come forth is an inexact science. Ohio’s fickle weather patterns make it a guessing game. Senior gardener Charles Applegate said the best chance to see them is typically the last week of April or the first week of May.

“If it stays sunny, dry and cool, the blooms will last longer,” says Applegate, who’s worked at Kingwood since 1965. He says the reason people get antsy to look at flowers this time of year is simple: “People have been through a cold winter and they want to see color. And the tulips are very bright. Unfortunately, they’re temporary.”

King would have enjoyed this scene. The recreational gardener, who made his fortune in Mansfield working with the Ohio Brass Company, requested that his property be used as an educational institution for the advancement of horticulture and gardening after his passing.

The Kelley King Trust operates Kingwood as a nonprofit business, and it is open to the public for a nominal fee nearly year-round. The property includes a 1926-built French Provincial mansion housing a horticultural library and many original furnishings. Greenhouses contain seasonal floral displays and a variety of unusual plants for sale. The center’s greatest delight, however, is its gardens, which produce an abundance of flowers, trees and shrubs that bloom from early spring to late fall. The headliner is the annual tulip display, which spreads over 55 beds.

“We always want it to be perfect,” says Bill Collins, Kingwood’s head gardener. “When the spring flowers are blooming and the tulips are out, it’s just spectacular here.”

Kingwood’ tulips hail from Holland. Bulbs are selected at their prime and shipped to a distributor in Cincinnati. Each October a staff of nine gardeners plants thousands of tulip bulbs. Using a hand-held trowel, each gardener digs a 5-inch-deep hole for every bulb, and the planting takes about a week.

Tulips do best in a sunny, dry and cool climate. In those weather conditions, the colorful display can last up to three weeks.

Kingwood annually holds a Spring Flower Festival in early May. The all-day event includes vendors, entertainment, workshops, lectures and plant sales.

For more information, visit www.kingwoodcenter.org.

Pick pumpkins, pet animals, play outdoors

Nothing says autumn like a well-groomed pumpkin patch. When the calendar turns to October, I always go looking for a place to pick up a few jack-o-lanterns to be.

This year my family discovered Pigeon Roost Farm, along Rt. 40 in Hebron, Ohio. Seeing my 2-year-old daughter’s face light up as she wandered among the pumpkins and frolicked at the farm’s extensive playground assured me we had hit upon a gem.

The 80-acre farm, located at 4413 National Road SW, offers a cornucopia of fall delights that draws nearly 35,000 visitors a year. Most pumpkins cost 35 cents a pound. You can pick your own in the field or select a pre-picked specimen or two. Just stack them in one of the many provided self-serve wagons, which doubled as a stroller for Rosie.

Ralph and Janice Jutte run the farm. They opened it to the public in 1980 to teach their children to work hard. Back then the business was a self-serve melon stand positioned under a tree. They later named it Pigeon Roost after the carrier pigeons that frequented the area in the past.

“It’s our intent to provide a positive farm experience and give younger generations an opportunity to spend time on a working farm,” Ralph said.

The farm has a bounty of beautifully displayed pumpkins, gourds and squash, straw bales and corn shocks. There’s an old barn full of crafts for sale, and another offers creepy toys including bloody fingers, plastic vampire fangs and rubber bugs. Other items for sale include honey, bath products and a variety of snacks.

There are lots of friendly animals at the farm, including goats, chickens, rabbits, sheep, turkeys, peacocks and even camels. We chuckled at Billy Goat Hill, a raised wooden plank where about a dozen goats jostle for position. I did have a brief run-in with Martha the pigeon, the patch’s mascot, who briefly mistook me for a roost. But I survived.

We were very pleased with the accommodations for children. At the top of that list was the Great Pumpkin Fun Center, a playground with more than a dozen attractions, including a corn maze, a hay tunnel, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch and two side-by-side slides that follow the grade of a hill. Admission to the playground is $6, free for those under 2 years old.

Pigeon Roost is open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., from September through November. There’s a $3 charge for weekend hayrides. We visited on a Monday, when business was brisk but the farm wasn’t too busy. We can’t wait to return.

For more information, visit www.pigeonroostfarm.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.