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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

Central Ohio: Education comes in the disguise of fun

BY STEVE STEPHENS
COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Mark Chase an employee of Columbus Parks & Rec along with volunteer Dan Zerkel (back to camera) start on trimming a taxus shrub into shape to replace part of a topiary figure bush that had died off at the Topiary Park. Mark Chase an employee of Columbus Parks & Rec along with volunteer Dan Zerkel (back to camera) start on trimming a taxus shrub into shape to replace part of a topiary figure bush that had died off at the Topiary Park.
COLUMBUS DISPATCH/ ERIC ALBRECHT Enlarge

Central Ohio, ironed flat by glaciers, might not offer much in the way of topography, but visitors will find an abundance of historic sites, parks, family attractions, and shops that more than make up for the area’s lack of fancy geography. Here are 10 must-see places to visit:

● Ohio Statehouse, Broad and High streets, Downtown Columbus (Franklin County)

More than just the center of deal-making and politicking, the Ohio Statehouse is a beautifully restored Greek Revival structure offering tours, an Ohio politics museum, and a chance to see your elected officials in action, for good or ill. You’re paying for it, after all. 614-752-9777, www.ohiostatehouse.org

● COSI Columbus, 333 W. Broad St., Columbus (Franklin County)

The Center of Science and Industry, on the site of the old Columbus Central High School (and using part of the old building), is one of the country’s leading science centers and has been named the best for families by Parents Magazine. The center boasts areas such as Lab space, Little Kidspace, Space, and live shows. Plus, you can watch rats play basketball! And, visitors can become super sleuths in the Sherlock Holmes exhibit, which runs through Sept. 14. For ticket prices and hours of operation: 614-228-2674, www.cosi.org.

● Topiary Garden, East Town Street, Columbus (Franklin County)

The Georges Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte comes to life in the seven-acre Old Deaf School Park near a quiet neighborhood downtown. Shrubs are trimmed to resemble the figures of the paintings as seen from a central vantage point. Visitors can join the topiary people and animals — some larger than life-sized — for a picnic or an afternoon in the park any day of the week. www.topiarypark.org

● The Book Loft, 631 S. 3rd St., Columbus (Franklin County)

Bibliophiles might never leave this 32-room bookstore, one of the largest independents in the nation. The Book Loft offers a labyrinth of bookish delights, spread through several pre-Civil War buildings in the city’s popular and visitor-friendly German Village neighborhood. And while there, check out the legendary cream puffs at nearby Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant. 614-464-1774, www.bookloft.com, www.schmidthaus.com

● Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 4850 W. Powell Rd. (Delaware County)

The world-famous zoo earns its reputation as one of the country’s best. New this year is the Heart of Africa exhibit, in which visitors can view lions from inside a plane. True, the old 1956 Beech-18 aircraft will be on the ground, but it still makes an unusual viewing platform. 614-645-3550, www.columbuszoo.org

● Velvet Ice Cream’s Ye Olde Mill, 11324 Mount Vernon Rd., Utica (Licking County)

The mill is a fabulous place for ice-cream lovers and history buffs (despite ye olde annoying spelling). Velvet celebrates its centennial this year, and the 20-acre mill site, which also includes an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, museum, and factory viewing gallery, will be bustling with special activities this summer, including the Utica Sertoma’s Ice Cream Festival, which will take place Memorial Day weekend. 740-892-3921, www.velveticecream.com

● Sherman House Museum, 137 E. Main St., Lancaster (Fairfield County)

The birthplace of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (and his brother, U.S. Sen. John Sherman) is now a museum with original Sherman family and Civil War artifacts. It’s a great place to celebrate this year’s sesquicentennial of Sherman’s famous March to the Sea, which helped bring the war to an end. Just don’t tell your friends from Georgia. 740-687-5891, www.shermanhouse.org

● Slate Run Historical Farm, 1375 Rt. 674 N., Canal Winchester (Pickaway County)

Visitors can experience life on an 1880s farm — part of the Franklin County Metro Parks — which features farm animals, demonstrations, and a restored 1856 gothic revival farmhouse. Costumed guides plant and harvest, take care of the animals, and show visitors 19th-century farm life in all its mud-and manure-bespeckled glory. 614-833-1880, www.metroparks.net/​ParksSlateRunFarm.aspx

● Cemetery prairies (Madison County)

The tiny, beautiful Bigelow and Smith cemetery state nature preserves near Plain City in northern Madison County harbored some of the last remaining tall-grass prairie plants left in the state. Seeds gathered from these quiet, beautiful cemeteries have helped re-grow prairie areas and spread the plants to other parks. gov/​smithcemetery; naturepreserves.ohiodnr.naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/​bigelowcemetery

● Covered bridges (Union County)

Northwest of Columbus, Union County is home to four historic 19th-century covered bridges — plus several picturesque modern additions — over Big Darby Creek, a National Scenic River, and its tributaries. The bridges have all been refurbished and are well-maintained, and the drive between them is quite scenic. The county hosts an annual Covered Bridge Festival in late summer. www.coveredbridgefestival.com



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