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Published: Thursday, 5/8/2008

Possibilities abound for families seeking low-cost excursions

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Visitors marvel at a reconstructed skull of an Allosaurus dinosaur at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History in Ann Arbor. Visitors marvel at a reconstructed skull of an Allosaurus dinosaur at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History in Ann Arbor.
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Looking for a family outing that won t bust the bank account?

The Toledo Zoo is a great fit, but it s not free. And that s the purpose of this story: shedding light on those largely overlooked places where Mom and Pop can take their kids without worrying if the activity will cut into next week s grocery budget or into the pile of cash they ve been socking away for school clothes.

The family-oriented freebies.

Submitted, in no particular order, are 10 ideas that shouldn t cost you much more than gasoline. If you ve checked the price of gas lately, of course, that s expensive enough (hey, you didn t really think you d get away without spending any money, did you?). Undoubtedly, there are other great bargains out there, too.

• The University of Michigan s Exhibit Museum of Natural History, also euphemistically referred to by kids as The Dinosaur Museum, is well worth the trip to Ann Arbor. Located at 1109 Geddes Ave., it has the state of Michigan s largest collection of prehistoric fossils, skeletons, and displays, including a mastodon skeleton from Owosso. It s been a favorite for would-be paleontologists from the kindergarten to graduate school levels for years.

Founded in 1878 and housed in its current building since 1928, the museum includes a planetarium (which requires a fee). Parking s never fun in Ann Arbor, but the museum is a short walk from local parking garages, as well as some of the city s most popular cafes, delis, bookstores, and souvenir shops. Information: 734-764-0480; lsa.umich.edu/exhibitmuseum

• The Toledo Museum of Art s Family Center is a good way for youngsters to get indoctrinated in this Toledo institution, assuming the kids aren t already leaping to the front of their class and marveling over the museum s famed Libbey Glass collection. Numerous projects and crafts, as well as theme-based activities, are available when the family center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Information: 419-255-8000; toledomuseum.org

• Metroparks of the Toledo Area (or Toledo Area Metroparks, as it s also known): How could a short list of bargain outings not include the venerable 80-year-old regional park district and its multiple offerings? They re too long here to list. But whether you re looking for great playground equipment, pontoon boats, biking and hiking trails, or a spot to go birding, chances are you ll find something to your liking. Toledo loves its parks. And there are countless activities, from fishing derbies to dog events. Information: 419-407-9700; metroparkstoledo.com

The new visitors center at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The new visitors center at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
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• The Toledo Firefighters Museum at 918 Sylvania Ave., a five-minute drive from downtown, gives visitors the chance to learn about the blazin hot work of some of our local heroes over the past 150 years. On display are thousands of photographs and vintage artifacts, including large equipment. The museum s centerpiece is an 1837 pumper called Neptune, which was Toledo s first fire truck. Information: 419-478-3473; toledofiremuseum.com

• Toledo-Lucas County Public Library is not one library but a network of 18 branch libraries connected to the renovated and quite appealing main library downtown. The affection Toledoans have for their zoo, art museum, and parks is equalled by that for its outstanding library system.

It was ranked eighth-best in the country in 2006 for cities the size of Toledo by Hennen s American Public Library Ratings, one of several times it has been recognized nationally. We also should note the Way Public Library in Perrysburg, just across the Maumee River and in Wood County, was recently ranked the nation s fourth-best library for cities of Perrysburg s size.

Toledo-Lucas County Public Library information: 419-259-5207; toledolibrary.org. Way Public Library information: 419-874-3135; waylibrary.info

• The new Visitors Center at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, 14000 West State Rt. 2, along Lake Erie between Toledo and Port Clinton, is a three-story facility with numerous displays and hands-on exhibits. It also has an observation deck and a book store. Information: 419-898-0014; www.fws.gov/Midwest/Ottawa

• Stroll along the Maumee River, the Mississippi River of northwest Ohio, if you will. Public access can be found in a number of places, including International Park and Promenade Park in downtown Toledo and Side Cut Metropark in Maumee. The river, which flows from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Toledo, is the largest of the Great Lakes tributaries. Miles of it southwest of Toledo have received state scenic river designation. The Super Bowl of the Great Lakes fishing season occurs in April, during the famous Walleye Run in which one of Lake Erie s most prized sportfish swims to/from spawning grounds.

• Ohio state parks are free for daily usage. Entrance fees are charged at Michigan state parks. The freebies in this area include Maumee Bay State Park, Crane Creek State Park, and East Harbor State Park, the latter of which has Ohio s oldest and still one of its most bacteria-free beaches. Information: 614-265-7000; dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/tabid/80/Default.aspx

• Blissfield Model Railroad Club, based at 115 East Adrian St. in Blissfield, offers free presentations to the public. The club has a 2,300-square-foot model railroad with more than 1,500 feet of mainline track. The layout is open to the public from September through May, with the exception of January. Open house events are generally held on the third weekend of each month. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although a donation is requested. Information: 517-486-2223; blissfieldmrc.org

• Wabash Cannonball Trail is the region s premier rail-to-trail project, encompassing 63 miles of northwest Ohio. It s popular among hikers, bikers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and in-line skaters. The surface varies from asphalt to hard-packed cinder ballast. Information: Toledo Area Metroparks, 419-826-6463; the village of Whitehouse, 419-877-5383; the Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association Inc., 419-822-4788 or 1-800-951-4788; Wauseon Parks and Recreation, 419-335-6887;wabashcannonballtrail.org

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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