By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show
With the state fair opening Wednesday, July 24, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) begins welcoming folks to the Natural Resources Park with free interactive exhibits and displays. Located in the southeast corner of the state fairgrounds, the park will be open from 11-7 daily through Sunday, August 4.
Two wildlife buildings that made their debut at the 2017 Ohio State Fair include the Wild Ohio Shooting Range, which houses archery and air gun ranges for all ages. The second is the Fish Ohio Building, a redesigned fish house where Division of Wildlife staff offer fish filleting and cooking demonstrations. The building also houses refrigerated storage to temporarily hold fish caught in the youth fishing area until kids are ready to pick them up and take them home.
Another popular attraction is the Scenic Rivers touch pool, which contains many of Ohio’s native macro invertebrate species, plus a few crayfish and small stream fish. The touch pool allows visitors to experience the magic of dipping a hand into a stream to find live critters, and it shows how the Scenic Rivers program monitors these creatures to help gauge stream health.
Returning exhibits include the popular kayak pond, which is a 7,000-square-foot pond, which gives guests an opportunity to safely learn how to kayak. Additionally, located near the kayak pond, the personal watercraft simulator will be available, allowing visitors to experience “riding” a jet ski.
A new animatronic Smokey Bear was installed a few years ago, replacing the original 55-year-old Smokey that annually scared the bejesus out of my now-19 year old son by greeting him by name. The new display has moving arms, head and mouth, which allows him to continue sharing his mission by teaching fairgoers how they can prevent wildfires. Smokey Bear still greets each child who visits from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. A 71-foot-tall fire tower, originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 in Pike County, is also located directly behind Smokey to reinforce the icon’s fire prevention message.
The recently expanded ODNR Amphitheater offers daily performances throughout the fair, from lumberjack competitions, animal demonstrations with animals from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a retriever dog show and music and clogging performances. Other educational opportunities are available, including the Butterfly House, Ruthven’s Aviary, and a walk-through tall grass prairie exhibit.
And of course, the youth fishing pond; perhaps the most popular destination in the Park — at least for kids 13 years and younger and the adults who enjoy watching them fish for the 2,000 hybrid bluegills stocked in the pond.
I rarely miss the state fair and never miss spending a good deal of time exploring the Natural Resources Park there.