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614 Summer Road Trip: Skydiving, wake boarding, more in Butler County, OH

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“Do you wanna go on a crazy adventure all over Butler County and do all sorts of crazy fun stuff?!” My editor spat out his words hurriedly. It was 8:45am.

“I think so?” I mumbled back.

“There will be ice cream…” he purred.

“I’m in,” I said instinctively. I have a habit of saying yes and I had been through Butler County a few times before, always having a great time. If he thought it was a good idea, I trusted him.

“So when do we wanna go? In a few weeks?”

“WE don’t go, just you,” he said. “And you’re skydiving. And you leave in 20 minutes.”

Like that, I was on the highway heading to Hamilton, OH, just 90 minutes southwest of Columbus. I pulled up to the stately Courtyard Marriott and admired the view. The hotel overlooks the Great Miami River, which cuts through the heart of beautiful downtown Hamilton, and it is every bit as exquisite on the inside as it appears from the exterior.

I stepped through the front doors and was immediately greeted by two extra-friendly receptionists. They handed me an itinerary but I was too nervous to peek inside.

The elevator carried me swiftly to the clean, spacious fifth floor room that I would call home for the next two days, although I unfortunately didn’t spend much time there. I dropped my bag and unfurled the tri-folded piece of paper that held my fate. Skydiving was the first activity on the list. The room was top-notch, but I had to go.

Before I could hurl myself out of a moving plane 14,000 feet above the surface of the planet, I knew I had to put something in my queasy stomach. I decided to go to Jungle Jim’s International Market, a wondrous bazaar of unusual sustenance carrying over 180,000 different edible items and almost seven acres of one-of-a-kind personality.

More amusement park than grocery store, Jim’s stocks foodstuffs from every country under the sun, if you can even look past the wild décor and animatronic mascots. They’ve got fresh-baked breads and desserts, to exotic meats and cheeses, unique candies and beverages, truly just about everything you could ever dream of stuffing in your face. Normally I would gravitate to the 1,400+ hot sauces, 4,000+ beers, or 12,000+ wines, but I figured drab would be the way to go before my jump. I grabbed some weird fruit, hot bread, and cheese I’d never heard of and hit the road. I’ll definitely be back to sample the really good stuff, and it will probably be a totally different experience. At least I used their award-winning ‘Best Bathrooms in America’ to empty my bladder before entering the stratosphere.

I had a thirty minute drive north to Start Skydiving in Middletown, OH, which I spent the entirety of thinking about my own mortality, especially when we passed the Butler County Coroner’s Office. As we got farther out of town the buildings peeled away, leaving just blue sky and green land. It was beautiful country, but all I could think about was plummeting quickly from one and forcibly into the other.

We pulled up to the facilities and I was immediately impressed, and relieved. Dozens of people milled around, packing parachutes, giving instructions, and high-fiving each other on successful jumps. Ranked the ‘#1 Drop Zone in the World’ (!), I could tell from the outset that I was in good hands. I do a lot of idiotic and reckless things, and suddenly I realized this might not even be the most dangerous thing I did today.

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After signing in, I was escorted to an open hangar to be fitted for a jumpsuit and to meet the other people who would be diving with me. Since it was my first time, I would be completing, hopefully, a tandem jump, which meant there would be an experience professional on-hand to handle the important stuff. We’d also be accompanied by a videographer to document things, for better or worse.

I met my expert for the trip, Aaron, who had more than eight hundred jumps under his belt including four already that morning. He walked me through the process and answered all my questions, which alleviated my concerns. Until he was tightening up my harness and mumbled, “Won’t let anyone fall outta one of these…again.” Very personable, these guys.

We climbed into the small eight-person aircraft and lifted off towards the heavens. My heart pumped harder with each passing second as the reality of the situation set in. Then at 14,000 feet, the door slid open. My throat clenched as I peered into the abyss, and there was no possibility I was going through with it. Before I could protest, military-trained Aaron stood up with my puny 140lbs. hanging from him like a fanny pack and we jumped out of the freaking airplane.

The rush was unlike anything I had ever felt, smashing through clouds at 125 miles per hour as we hurtled nearly TWO MILES through the sky before Aaron pulled the rip chord. We glided through the warm afternoon air, still thousands of feet above the Earth, and surveyed miles and miles of land. Aaron had me pull down on yellow straps hanging from either side of the parachute, sending us spinning rapidly, and real life ceased to exist. It was a completely surreal experience and my stomach flutters just recalling it.

We gently thudded to the ground and I could barely stand up, the emotion of the experience still hung so heavy on my shoulders. We had survived, and I needed a beer.

Truly, if you’ve ever had the inclination to engage in this insanity, do it at Start Skydiving. And throw down the extra couple bucks to get photos and video, as I still go back and check them at least once a day to assure myself I lived through it.

I headed back to the hotel to change into my bathing suit, as I had a few hours of wake boarding up next, but I really thought a cold beer would do me some good after the incredible events of the morning. Luckily, not 30 yards from the Marriott was the perfect oasis…

Municipal Brew Works had everything I needed at the moment, a giant patio and a dozen delicious beers for me to drink on it. The staff were welcoming and let me try a handful of their options, all brewed on-site, before I selected. My favorites were the dark, chocolaty Midnight Cut Porter, the fruity Woltermelon Blonde and Center Of It Ale, and best of all the Free City Ale, but the beers are constantly rotating so I’ll definitely be back to see what future concoctions they’re offering.

After a little lubrication it was time for some wake boarding at Wake Nation, just four miles from the hotel. As a total novice to the sport, I was welcomed by the crew who helped me pick out just the right board, life vest and helmet, and sent out onto the practice pond to try my hand at things. Wake Nation runs a cable system to pull boarders, unlike the traditional boat-pulled method, so it’s very easy to get a quick handle on the basics and after just a few tries I was zipping along like a seasoned pro, even trying out some advanced techniques. I credit my trainer Trey, who quickly spotted my trouble areas and knew just how to correct my form.

After an hour on the practice pond we moved over to the larger lake for some knee boarding, a variation that doesn’t involve standing all the way up. The main cable system runs a little faster than the practice version, resulting in a couple solid wipe-outs, but that’s really part of the fun. Wake Nation, now under new management after nine years of operation, also offers a giant inflatable aqua-park with a giant trampoline for propelling yourself into the water, and will debuting a super-slide, restaurant and beer garden in 2018, so obviously I’ll be back to partake in all of those.

If action-packed water activities are your jam, this place really can’t be beat. An all-day lake pass is just $40, and they offer lessons and camps for those just getting started. Wake Nation also hosts contests and events for the more experienced, but I’ll need a few more trips around the practice pond before I give one of those a try.

For more information on the places I visited, click below!

Courtyard Marriott

Jungle Jim’s

Start Skydiving

Wake Nation

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BYO Baby: 4 places to take the kids without compromising adulthood

Linda Lee Baird

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Adulting is hard. And just when you think you’ve maybe got it figured out—with a semblance of stability in your life—you may (in a burst of confidence) decide to have a baby. Surprise! You will never feel like you have anything figured out again. Welcome to parenthood! Can I buy you a drink? But wait. Where can you even get a drink as a parent?

As it turns out, Columbus is a great city for raising kids without having to completely give up the life you had before. Here are a few places you can take your children that are fun for adults, that are welcoming for little ones, and where no one is going to judge you or bat an eye over a dreaded public kid meltdown. Take it from this mother of two: you deserve a break.

16-BIT SHORTY DAY

If you find yourself waking up early on a Sunday, mourning weekends of yore when you actually got to leave the house on Saturday night, 16-Bit’s weekly Shorty Day might be just what you need. Every Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., 16-Bit drops its “21+” requirement in favor of family fun. You can introduce your kids to classic arcade games like Ms. Pacman, Tron, and Centipede, while kids sip on slushies and grownups indulge in authentic adult beverages. Admission and arcade games are free, and pinball games cost a mere 50 cents. While I was there on a recent Sunday, I witnessed a mom in town from Seattle get the high score in Asteroids, proudly showing her teenage daughter the way it’s done.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

16-Bit Shorty Day: Sundays from 12-5 at the 254 S Fourth St. location. Kids are welcome daily until 8 p.m. at the Dublin location with adult supervision. Learn more at 16-bitbar.com.

RAMBLING HOUSE MUSIC BAR’S FAMILY FRIENDLY FIRST FRIDAYS

Rambling House Music Bar serves up zippy sodas with traditional and roots music six nights a week. Once a month, they relax their age requirements for Family Friendly First Fridays, where from 6-8 p.m., kids can enjoy age-appropriate craft beverages while dancing to the tunes. Eileen Wukusick has attended a few Family Friendly First Fridays with her three and six-year-old. She cautions first timers to be prepared for crowds, both in the search for parking and on the dance floor. Rambling House does not serve food, though cake has been known to appear during these events, so you may want to bring along some munchies to complement those sodas, and get ready to dance the sugar o before bedtime.

Rambling House Music Bar is located at 310 Hudson St. Family Friendly First Fridays take place on the first Friday of every month. For more information visit ramblinghousemusic.com.

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STUDIO 35

During many snow days this past winter, Studio 35 came through as a hero for Clintonville parents in search of last-minute entertainment when it offered free screenings of classic family movies. In addition to big- screen entertainment, the booths by the bar in the front room are stocked with board games that appeal to little brains; recently my kids played Operation while I drank a beer and watched the Women’s World Cup on the televisions—a true parenting win. In August, Studio 35 will screen the last two movies in its free summer kids series, The Secret of the Kells and A Long Way Home. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for more events, including last-minute ones. After all, school is just around the corner, which means heat days and parent scrambling can’t be far behind.

Studio 35 is located at 3055 Indianola Ave. Free summer Kids’ Series movies screen on Saturdays at 11 a.m. through August 10. Visit studio35.com for more information.

FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY CHILDREN’S GARDEN

Franklin Park Conservatory has always been an awesome place to take kids—mine never tire of walking through the rainforest and desert, especially in the middle of gray Ohio winters. When the two-acre Children’s Garden opened last summer, however, the conservatory jumped from a “nice place to visit” to an “absolutely must do” on my list of family-friendly Columbus attractions. From the second kids enter the garden through a special tunnel that’s just their size, it takes on a magical aura. As they explore, they’ll find everything from fairies to musical instruments to giant hammocks to, yes, all kinds of native-Ohio plants. If that’s not enough, the Learning Pavillion hosts regular activities and special guests, so all of you can get even more out of your visit.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden at Franklin Park Conservatory is open year-round. Admission to the garden is included in the conservatory’s ticket price: $19 for adults and

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Ultimate Columbus Summer Bucket List

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Hello and welcome to summertime! Today is the longest day of the year—plenty of time for you to sit down with your family and/or friends to map out your bucket list for this summer. Or…you could get a start on ours!

We’ve put together the ultimate list of summer activities in Columbus to ensure you have a summer full of fun. Just remember to wear sunscreen!

Go berry picking

Nothing tastes better than something you’ve worked for. And nothing tastes sweeter than something picked right from the dirt. Don the sun hats and sturdy shoes because we’re about to put you to work for your fruit! Here are more than 20 farms offering U-pick berry programs for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and peaches in central Ohio.

Support local growers at neighborhood farmers’ markets

Do you know where your produce is from? Odd are if you don’t purchase them straight from a farmer, you’ve got no clue. Fuel your summer with goods pulled right from central Ohio dirt at local farmers’ markets!

Score a beer mug at ComFest

Besides epic memories, the best takeaway from ComFest is always the brightly-color plastic beer mug. Just remember to drink responsibly! Click here to read about the recent drama that went down with ComFest.

Celebrate freedom at Red White & Boom

Columbus’ biggest Fourth of July celebration will be returning to downtown on July 3 for the largest fireworks display in the Buckeye State. Arrive early for the parade and stay late for the party!

Spend a day at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

This one is an absolute must. There’s nothing like a warm summer day spent taking in the amazing animals at one of the best zoos in the country. Make sure to wave at the polar bears for us!

Gaze at the stars at John Glenn Astronomy Park

The John Glenn Astronomy Park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night. Make sure to plan a trip to JGAP on a clear night to gaze at the wonderment of our universe.

Take in an outdoor movie

NightLight 614, a 21+ social outdoor film series on the banks of the Scioto featuring some of Columbus’s Best local food trucks, and craft beer & wine. Easton’s Movies by Moonlight series is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a lineup bigger and better than ever!

NightLight 614

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Spend a day at the drive-in

Since the 1950s, the South Drive-In at 3050 S. High St. has been Columbus premier destination for late night, big screen movie showings under the stars. And since the 1970s, it’s been the largest central Ohio location for…flea markets? Yes, indeed. Click here to read more!

Eat as much ice cream as humanly possible

Ice Cream is a pillar of summer. But where to begin? We think this list of the best alt ice cream shops in Columbus would be a sweet place to start.

Chow down at the Jazz & Rib Festival

If you’re not elbow-deep in BBQ sauce at least one time this summer, you’re not eating correctly. There is absolutely no better place to put your manners aside and let your carnivorous nature shine than at the Jazz & Rib Festival. Hot ribs, cool jazz.

Stay afloat at Trapper John’s

Leash up the pooch and buckle up your life jacket for an afternoon at Trapper John’s Canoe Livery! Enjoy canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the State and National Scenic Big Darby Creek.

Chill on some patios

Ditch the AC for once and take advantage of these few fleeting months when Ohio offers a tolerable climate. We’ve got dog-friendly patios, High Street patios, NW Columbus patios, seven perfect patio pairings, and, of course, the best drinking patio as voted on by you!

Grab the perfect pic at a rooftop bar

Columbus is quickly becoming a rooftop bar city. With the recent additions from Lincoln Social, Juniper, and VASO, we’ve got eight high-up drinking establishments you need to patronize this summer.

Bonus: All The Way Up: My experience at Lincoln Social rooftop

Lincoln Social

Have the perfect picnic

The grass is lush, the butterflies are flying, and the sun is shining—the perfect al fresco dining experience. We’ve put together pairings of the city’s top places to fill up your basket accompanied by the best nearby park for the picnic of your dreams!

Sing along to a free show at Columbus Commons

Each summer, the Columbus Commons is your destination for free live music. From local bands like Doc Robinson, to national acts like Boyz II Men, the outdoor amphitheater is where you need to be.

Pitch a tent

The campers, RVS, and pop-up tents will be returning to the outdoors this summer, serving as a home away from home for those looking to escape the city for a few days. It’s time to get outdoors, enjoy nature, roast some marshmallows over the fire, and get off the grid if not for a couple moments of bliss.

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Cannonball into a pool

Leave your layers and insecurities at home, because it’s time to give the pool whatever body you’ve got! Just remember to pack the good snacks, okay? Click here for 30 Columbus pools to beat the heat.

Let the kids loose at splash pads around town

Splashpads: Free and fun water spraygrounds without the worry of deep bottoms or high dives. We don’t know about you but to us, that seems like a home run, nay, grand slam. This summer, diversify your cool down routine by hanging at one of Columbus’ many exciting splashpads.

Awe at the beauty of Franklin Park Conservatory

Did you know Admission to Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is FREE to all residents of Franklin County, the first Sunday of every month, before 5 pm. And did you know FPC has a farmers’ market? Plan your trip now!

Stop and smell the roses at the Whetstone Park of Roses

The Whetstone Park of Roses is just begging for you to stop and smell. It’s the perfect place to pitch your hammock, take photos, and to enjoy the beauty of one of the largest public rose gardens in the U.S.

Sunbathe at Alum Creek Beach

It may not be the white sand beaches of Mexico, but we’ll take what we can get. This public beach can be your seaside vacation if you have an imagination and tons of salty pretzels. A beach is a beach, right?!

Take your dog for a dip

We can’t be sure what dogs dream, but we’d imagine it’s a lot of neon yellow tennis balls, frisbees, bones, and playing fetch in ice cold water. Make your pup’s dream come true this summer with these awesome places to take your dog for a dip.

Walnut Woods Metro Park

Eat 10 cent hot dogs at a Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night

Dime-a-Dog Nights are an important staple of summer, especially on the firework nights. But you can’t go into this eating excursion without a game plan! Check out our Columbus Clippers Dime-a-Dog Night Survival Guide to expertly navigate your hot dog hay day.

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614 Summer Road Trip: Camping, canoes, and crockpots in Mohican State Park

Regina Fox

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Labor Day is approaching, which will quickly be followed by Christmas shopping. So now is the time to plan your last vacation before your calendar fills with holidays. No need to empty out your wallet, though. “The Heart of It All” has plenty of fun on the cheap, whether you’re looking for relaxation or excitement. So buckle your seat belt for a quick Ohio tour and everything the season has to offer.

I’ve been going to Mohican State Park on Memorial Day weekend for all 24 years of my life. This tradition of my hometown, err…village long predates my existence, even. For one weekend every year, a convoy of trucks and trailers carries nearly half of Arcadia, Ohio’s population (590 in total according to the 2010 census) 100 miles southeast to an oasis deep in the Mohican wilderness. And the best part besides the great outdoors, hot dogs, and excuse to not wash your hair all weekend? You get your kicks for cheap! Here’s how you can stretch $100 to have a truly memorable weekend getaway out in the sticks.

From Columbus, the park is only about 80 miles, so you’ll only have about $20 in gas. Your GPS will wind you through the Amish countryside, down old dirt roads, and through amber waves of grain before you will completely lose cell service—an unsuspecting perk of the trip before you even arrive. There are many campgrounds within Mohican State Park, but over the last several years, we’ve set anchor at Wilderness. (What I actually mean is that the Arcadia group has been kicked out of every other campground over the years. We run a little rowdy, to say the least). Campsites there cost anywhere from $25 to $44, depending on electricity hookup and time of year. So, once you pitch the tent or park the trailer, it’s time to crack open your first adult beverage and let the good times roll.

With traveling and setting up camp, the first day has the potential to bring on some stress or anxiety. Let your problems drift away with a tubing trip down the mighty Mohican River. If you forgot to pack a tube or means to in ate one, don’t worry! Rip off the sheet you just stretched across your air mattress and prepare for the most comfortable float this side of Put-in-Bay’s Jet Express. Climbing up the muddy riverbank to your campsite is probably the closest you’ve come to fulfilling your New Year’s fitness resolution, so you’ll need to eat. Staying with the theme of simplicity on the first night, don your pie irons and make pizza sandwiches! Want to class it up a notch? Swap out Kroger brand shredded mozzarella for smoked gouda and trade pepperoni for Soppressata. Wash it down with an ice cold Busch Light and you’ve got yourself a tasty meal way on the south side of $10. Round out the evening with a friendly game of beersbie, cornhole, or thumper around the fire. You’ll fall asleep to the soothing sound of crickets and tree frogs. Just remember to pack away all your food before calling it a night—the local raccoons are not shy.

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On day two, you’ll wake up with a slight backache from your lumpy mattress, but eager to get the fun started. Head up to the front office and reserve a spot on the 5-mile canoe ride. You may be enticed by the 10-mile trip, or maybe even the 20-mile one, but between stopping off to explore the woods, picking up the wreckage from a tip, and bathroom breaks, you’re still in for a long day on the river with the 5-miler, trust me. Make sure you bring a couple bucks because turning down a Drumstick at a river-side ice cream stand is something you should never put yourself through. If you split the $20 cost of the canoe with your boat mate and factor in $2.25 for treats, you’ve got yourself a 6-hour activity that’ll only bust you $12.25.

Once you’ve finally washed ashore, it’s time for dinner. Rather than wasting precious Mohican time hunched over a cutting board or cooktop, we like to throw a crockpot potluck where each camp brings a dish to share, buffet-style. So far, you’ve enjoyed $92.25 worth of fun. That means you’ve got a whole $7.75 left in your budget to splurge on ingredients for your contribution! So give the people what they want: a dip. Buffalo chicken, Mexican street corn dip, spinach artichoke—it truly doesn’t matter, just as long as the main ingredient is cheese. And just like the melted goodness you scoop out of the crockpot, the evening will slowly stretch into night.

They say the best things in life are free and this is especially true with camping. On your last night in Mohican Wilderness, do absolutely nothing. Sit around the fire with your fellow campers, embrace the sounds of your laughter bouncing off the tall trees lining the riverbank, and really soak up each other’s company; it is then that you will truly embrace the spirit of Mohican camping. You may not come away with the next greatest Instagram photo, or a wildly unique souvenir (although you can dip your own wax candle at the Mohican Wilderness craft cabin), but there’s a reason I’ve visited the park for 24 consecutive years. I hope you find your reason, too.

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