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Discover caves in Columbus at Indian Village Outdoor Education Center

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How did I not know there were caves in Columbus?

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I've lived here for more than 20 years and thought I knew just about every hidden geographical gem in central Ohio including waterfalls, quarries and ravines.

But caves?

Albeit little, there are several genuine caves in Columbus along the west bank of the Scioto River near Griggs Reservoir.

I learned about them while attending a "Family Fun Day" with my children at the Indian Village Outdoor Education Center, 3200 Indian Village Rd.

The center, operated by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, promotes environmental education and outdoor exploration including a handful of caves located on the property. The free, monthly event is a good time to discover the caves, if you haven't already.

"It's a diamond in the rough," said Stephanie Ransom, an Indian Village employee who was onsite leading a craft. "I'm pretty sure I heard 'How did I not know about this place' at least five times today.'"

Ransom, an Ohio State University student majoring in environmental sciences, told us she's known about the caves since she was 6 years old. That's when she started attending a popular summer camp held at Indian Village.

She encouraged us to set out on a short trail to see the caves for ourselves.

My two children and I walked in the rain along a leaf-filled creek, soon feeling like we were deep in the woods – save for the occasional glimpses of apartment buildings through the trees.

Seeing the caves was exhilarating, because I had no idea they were there. It was thrilling for my kids because there were enticing little coves in which to play. A couple were just nooks in the rocks where a 4- and 6-year-old could take shelter from the rain.

Two others were true caves. You could walk inside and see a deeper pit of darkness that was a bit scary to enter. We hung outside until another family accompanied us into the black chamber. It turned out that the dark tunnel didn't go far – just a few adult steps deep.

We had fun escaping the rain in the dusty, rock-covered shelter. My kids immediately pretended they were Native Americans at home among the rocks. This, I thought, was surely inspired by the teepee located near the lodge.

The Ottawa Education Lodge is a red, wooden building facing the river. It's available to rent for birthday parties, and its spacious interior lends itself well as a meeting space for kids during summer camp. There is a fireplace with a comfortable couch and chairs near a collection of books and games. There also are aquariums with fish, snakes and turtles.

Before we left, we made headbands by taping leaves to a strip of construction paper. It was a crafty end to a surprisingly fun day.

For more information about Indian Village Outdoor Education Center and upcoming "Family Fun Days, visit http://parks.columbus.gov/outdooreducation.aspx or call 614-645-3380.

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