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.]