Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cincinnati Nature Center: Nature Playscape Grand Opening

There are so many activities and destinations geared toward children in the Cincinnati region that it can be hard to choose what to do or where to go on any given day.  But when I heard about the new Nature Playscape opening at the Cincinnati Nature Center, I knew I had to be there with the boys to check it out.  In his opening remarks, Bill Hopple, CNC's Executive Director spoke about the fact that there are many natural areas to explore with children, but oftentimes there are rules to follow:  Stay on the trail, Don't pick the flowers, Don't climb the trees, Stay out of the stream.

At the Nature Playscape, it's "Opposite Day," as my 4 year old would say.  Children are encouraged to climb on the trees, build a fort, pick the flowers, play barefoot in the stream, and more.  The Playscape was designed for kids to have a hands-on experience within a nature preserve without anyone telling them what not to do.  After making a bee-line to the cookie and lemonade table set up for the grand opening, my sons got busy jumping, climbing, digging, and wading.  

Cookies and Lemonade Always Come First!
Inside the Playscape, mulch and gravel paths wind throughout the 1.6 acres of fields planted with native plants and lead to various play areas.  The main attraction is the stream which includes a small waterfall to climb and plenty of stones for building dams.

The Stream

Miles Prepares to Descend the Waterfall

Marshall and Miles Navigate the Stream
Surrounding the stream are play areas.  We managed to visit most of them.  Following are some photos of the areas we encountered in no special order.

Dirt Hill--Our Favorite!

Ring of Upright Logs

It's a Fort, It's a Balance Beam

Hidden "Cave"

We Could Stay Here All Day

All Natural Jungle Gym

Look at Me Mom!

Sand Pit--a Classic
I also observed a gravel pit, more dirt piles, and some older kids building a fort in the woods with fallen branches.  One little fella spent his whole time building a very functional dam in the stream.

After our exploration which lasted a good two hours, we ventured back outside of the fenced-in Playscape and followed a short path to check out the nearby picturesque "Matt's Pond" and Abner Hollow Cabin.

By this time, hunger and exhaustion began to set in and when the boys started pushing and shoving one another down by the pond, I knew it was time to go.  On our way back to the parking lot, we passed through a picnic grove and I made a note to pack a lunch on our next visit.

All in all, the Nature Playscape is a neat destination for the kids.  Because it is fenced in, parents can let the youngsters roam at will while relaxing on a nearby bench if they wish.  

The idea of natural playscapes is a trend that is gaining momentum.  There is a lot of discussion about bringing children closer to nature and the need to combat parents' fears about letting kids roam free in the woods.  Children certainly have less opportunity to roam wild places close to home now than when I was young.  My childhood neighborhood of woods and farmland has given way to suburbs with paved roads and manicured lawns.  Nature preserves are essential to protect our lands from over-development, but they become so protected that kids are not always free to get down and dirty with their surroundings. Natural playscapes, built into places such as  the Cincinnati Nature Center provide a balance between the need to preserve nature and allow children to explore without rules and boundaries.  

I am still a big advocate for taking your kids on all kinds of trails--preserved and wild.  It's not the playscape that creates the experience, it's parents and caregivers providing the opportunity to experience nature.  If parents are fearful of "the backwoods"  and all the dangers therein, perhaps natural playscapes can provide a worry-free place to get their children (and themselves) back in touch with nature  The Nature Playscape at CNC is a great introduction to the wonders of the natural world;  but if you go, why not begin with a hike on one of the many trails within the park?  There are some things that can not be re-created by human hands in a playscape, such as the smells of old rocks in a slow-flowing stream, moss on a rotting tree, or lumps of wet autumn leaves lining the forest floor;  or a glimpse of a deer close by and the deep silence that covers the ears in the thick of the woods.  There is a difference to playing in a controlled natural environment and communing with nature in the wild.  The good thing about CNC is that you can have both experiences, all in one place. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Glenwood Gardens: Big Bugs!

One of the big outdoor events of Summer 2011 (ended August 21) was the Big Bugs exhibit at Glenwood Gardens in Woodlawn.  Since my kids love finding bugs in our backyard and on our hikes, I thought they would enjoy the huge insect sculptures and I was interested as well.  Glenwood Gardens is a little far from my home to visit often, so the exhibit was a good excuse to take the journey and let the kids play at the Highfield Discovery Garden.  They were more interested in the Discovery Tree and Trolley Garden (VERY cool play areas) than the bug sculptures, but I got them to pose for some photos anyway!  

Here are some photos taken during our visit.  Also included are pictures from a 2008 visit, chosen because I neglected to take photos of the Discovery Tree this time around.

[You may click on the slideshow to browse and to read comments with further information].

Besides the features mentioned above, Glenwood Gardens has many other things to do and explore, such as a vegetable garden, rain barrels with buckets so kids may water the plants, and special events related to nature.  Check out their nice website for more details.  Although it's hard to pull the kids from all the fun stuff in the Discovery Garden, I hope to explore the hiking trails on the property sometime which offers views of the West Fork Mill Creek.  Watch for a Trail
Tale post in the future.

Please note:  there is an admission charge to enter the Discovery Garden.  Adults: $7; Children 2-12 and Seniors: $5 

For more information about the creator of the Big Bug sculptures, David Rogers, visit his website:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Two Tykes on a Bike!...Little Miami Scenic Trail, Avoca to Milford.

What a hot, humid summer it has been--better for swimming than hiking!  The boys and I have had our share of pool visits this summer, but I've found myself craving a little exercise.  Plus I didn't want to miss the late summer wildflower show when all the tall, leafy "weeds" finally pop into bloom.  So, I took the humidity as a sign to pull my bicycle out of the garage and finally try out the bike trailer I found on craigslist at the beginning of the season.  At least the boys and I would get a breeze to dry off our moist brows.

Since it's close to home, we headed to the Avoca trail head on the Little Miami Scenic Trail for our trial run.  At first, I tried to let the boys ride along, but a tattered big wheel and a bike with shaky training wheels felt very out of place on this particular trail frequented by professional cyclists more than families.  My almost three-year-old could not grasp the concept of staying to the right side and my older son kept ending up in the grass, so into the trailer they went!  

The first ride was wonderful--me with the breeze on my cheeks, them chilling in the trailer behind, smiling people passing by, and plenty of wildflowers all around.  We even saw two deer crossing the path.  We have returned several times since and I finally took my camera to capture some of the trail for the blog.  Have a look!  And stay tuned for upcoming posts regarding bike paths in the area.

[Click on the slideshow below to see the whole album with captions and comments containing more information or click HERE.]

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Feature at Cincinnati Nature Center

I just came across this article from and wanted to share it. It describes a newly created feature called a natural playscape where "kids can pick flowers, play in the stream, climb the waterfall, hide in the cave, play in the mud and more."  The grand opening will be Tuesday, August 16th at 11:00 am. The public is invited to attend.  Admission will be Free for attendees of the opening.

Read the article for more information:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Trail Tale: Blue Ash Nature Park

Recently we visited the Blue Ash public library since there was a Reference Only book in their holdings that I wanted to see.  Since we were already in the area, I took the opportunity to check out a new trail for the blog (and let the kids use up some energy before heading home).  The Blue Ash Nature Park was the perfect spot.  The trail was long enough to be interesting, but allowed plenty of time for the boys to play on the nearby playgrounds as well.

After parking the car, we found a trail map just off the parking lot.

We started our hike to the right where the trail begins to loop around the outside edge of the park.

In the picture above you can see signs with the usual park guidelines and on the left, one of several small, covered picnic shelters within the park.  After a short jaunt on the paved entry way, we found the trail head, again to the right.  

There was plenty of greenery to greet us on the wide gravel path.  I noticed a vine ground cover planted on the edges of the path, keeping weeds at bay, making for a more relaxing walk since I didn't have to watch so closely for poison ivy!  Soon, we came to a wooden bridge crossing a small stream--always a point of interest for the boys.

Across the bridge, the path changes to mulch and is still nicely maintained.  Next, we find a bench, one of Marshall's favorite things.  He shouts:  "Look, a bench, a bench!" and acts as if we've been walking for hours, when it's only been about 10 minutes.  

From here, we continue right again, even though the boys have spotted one of the playgrounds.  Somehow I coax them to keep hiking with promises to play at the end.  I'm sure I mention a cookie or something like that too.  While we are "discussing" the matter, I notice a pretty painted bird house on a nearby tree.

And at least two more, throughout the park:

If I had known these were around, it would have been a fun scavenger hunt to seek these little works of art during the hike.  

We continued along the trail.

There are a couple of small side paths from the main trail, but one led to an empty space along the main road (Reed Hartman Highway) and another to someone's home.  It is best to stay on the main trail.  At one of these, we paused long enough to find some pretty moss growing at the base of a tree.

The kids took time to touch, smell, and yes, taste this tiny little carpet of green.  I love it when they get a hands-on experience with nature!  It was a patch of coolness on the hot day.  A little more hiking and we finally came upon the PLAYGROUND!!!!!!!!

The two play areas below lie on either side of the path.

They share space with a large picnic shelter.

Can you say Birthday Party?  This is the perfect set-up, with restrooms close by.  This and other park shelters can be rented by residents or businesses within the city of Blue Ash only.  However, I'll bet anyone can use them if they are not reserved, especially during the week.  Contact the city's parks department to be sure.

On this day, only a couple other people were around, so the boys had the place  mostly to themselves...unless you count the cool green dinosaur hanging out by the play set:

If you continue past the playgrounds shown, you will come to the park's amphitheater.  It is here that free concerts in the park are held as well as other special, family friendly performances.

We continued our walk in the other direction, toward the restrooms and water fountains.  We located another reservable shelter:

and another, smaller playground where Miles practiced his climbing skills:

This is actually the area the boys spotted as we began our hike.  There are a couple small covered picnic shelters here, perfect for someone on a lunch break from work or a small, casual gathering.  

After playing, we completed the loop and found ourselves back in the parking lot.  We ventured down the other trail head a short way just to cross a bridge and view a water feature:

This is a man made structure that is possibly used to control water runoff from the recreation center and other buildings just beyond it.  That didn't stop M&M from tossing stones into the water.

If we had continued down this trail, it would have led to another shelter, play area and the amphitheater.  But, it was time to go!  The heat, the time, and our rumbling bellies said so.  Next time I'm in the Blue Ash area, I'll be sure to pack a picnic and visit this park again.  But maybe I'll follow in the footsteps of the other Mom I saw while visiting and bring a book to read while the kids play!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fast Facts: Blue Ash Nature Park

4433 Cooper Road
Blue Ash, OH  45242 park

View Larger Map

Kids Will Like

  • Multiple Play Areas
  • Easy Hike
  • Picnics

Good to Know

  • Free Admission
  • Paved Parking Lot
  • Restroom Rating: B
  • Water Fountain at Restroom
  • Multiple Picnic Shelters--May be Reserved by Residents or Businesses of Blue Ash
  • Amphitheater on Site with Free Summer Concerts

This is a great little weekday loop hike if you are in the area.  Shelters can be reserved by Blue Ash residents or businesses, so summer weekends may be too crowded for the first time visitor.  There are at least three playgrounds on-site and some small picnic shelters that make this a perfect spot for a lunchtime outing.  Free weekly concerts are held on summer evenings at the amphitheater in the park.    

Concerts in the Park
Trail Map

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fast Facts: Rheinstrom Park

8105 Graves Road
Cincinnati, OH  45243

View Larger Map

Kids Will Like
  • Easy Paved Path
  • Meeting Neighborhood Dogs
  • Looking for Deer Tracks in the Dirt
  • Beautiful Scenery
  • Plenty of Benches for Resting

Good to Know
  • Paved Parking Lot
  • No Fees
  • Water Bowls Available for Dogs
  • No Water Fountains for Humans
  • No Restrooms
  • Stroller Friendly

This Indian Hill estate, turned nature preserve, is a nice little loop hike for kids of all ages.  The paved path, which is just under a mile long, makes it a clean and easy walk  There are some beautiful large trees on the property and some open spaces as well.  It's also a good place to get a quick work-out with your stroller.  Little evidence of the former estate and farm exists, but knowing it was a homestead at one time adds a special ambiance to the place.  

James Rheinstrom

Trail Tale: Rheinstrom Park

Sunshine!  Finally, a sunny day!  One day I took a drive around nearby Indian Hill to get the kids out of the house on a drizzly day and we came across this little nature preserve, Rheinstrom Park.  Today, I headed back with my camera because I thought it was a perfect little hike to highlight on Two Tykes.

The land for this park was donated by a long-time resident of Indian Hill, James Rheinstrom.  For more information about the origin of the park, check out the Indian Hill Historical Society page about Mr. Rheinstrom by clicking HERE.  

It's easy to miss the driveway for this park as you drive along Graves Road in Indian Hill.  Look for the short wooden poles which line the driveway and paved parking area for a clue (pictured above).  The trail begins directly off the back of the parking lot and crosses a creek. 

The trail begins

Stone Bridge Over Small Creek

Across the bridge, we encounter this sign.  The park contains a Blue Bird trail and the sign explains how to go about creating one yourself.  

And just ahead, we come to an intersection and choose to turn right.  From here the path makes one large loop around the property and ends at this same intersection.  If you go straight, you can also easily hop onto the loop about halfway through.  If you have a thirsty pet, you may find some water bowls and jugs awaiting their arrival as we did on our first visit--no water for humans though, so bring your own.

Soon into the walk, we are transported into a wild green scene.

As we round a bend, we are greeted by a grove of some enormous pine trees on the right.  Pictured below is probably only a fifth of the tree's actual height.  Just beyond the pines is someone's home, so we know we're not totally in a wild forest.

And then we see evidence of the old estate. The house and barn that used to occupy this land were removed years ago.  This gate and fence seem to be relics from the past, though I'm not sure if they were original or added at a later date.

After wandering through the dappled shade, we hit a sunny, grassy patch with some nice big trees filling up the view of the sky. There are several beautiful giants throughout the park.  [To see more photos of the trees, check my Flickr album].

Next, we walk into the dappled shade beside some newer trees.  

The ground beside the path is a little wetter in this area and Miles squeals with delight: "another puddle, Mom!" Gosh, he's a cutie!  We see a bunch of puddles which contain piles of broken twigs placed there for some reason--possibly to keep dogs from getting too wet.  There are quite a few very excited, off-leash dogs along our way.  All are friendly and seem to know their way around. 

We also find several benches on the path.  Each one sits in between two ornamental trees and look into the interior of the park.  It is an interesting juxtaposition, to see the native landscape rising up just beyond the formal sitting area.  Depending on where you place your eyes, you could be in a wild area or on someone's old estate.  It's a good place for letting the imagination roam.

And a good place for deer to roam as well!  Marshall finally spots these deer tracks in the mud after looking and looking and mistaking thousands of dog prints for deer.   

We are a little more than halfway down the path when we come to the section I mentioned earlier where you can find water bowls for dogs near the fork.  We see some dogs taking advantage of this added feature, maintained by community members, I assume.  From our spot, you'd have to cross a grassy patch to hit this part of the trail.  You could also shorten the hike by taking this path back to the main intersection.  If you have a stroller, this might be a good plan because the path ahead dips down and then climbs back up a fairly steep hill.  If you want to get your heart beating, though--continue on!

The boys decide to run ahead to the top of the hill.  This is after Marshall tripped on his sandal and stubbed his toe while trying to run down the hill.  
I'll spare you the photo of his distress.

You can check out this piece of natural sculpture as you finish the hike.  Cool.

And here we go to the end.  We turn right to head back to the parking lot.

At the edge of the lot, I snap one more photo of this idyllic scene with a rustic wooden bench crossing the creek in the distance.  

The whole trail was not quite a mile in length.  The paved path was very well maintained: smooth and without obstructions.  I appreciate the opportunity to roam a bit of the natural area in Indian Hill without feeling like I may be trespassing on someone's property.  The homes in this neighborhood are breathtaking.  The natural beauty that surrounds must be their inspiration.