July 2008 Issue
Butler County is packed with adventures for the whole family.
Some people take pleasure in weekends filled with days of sightseeing, while others crave the frenzied hunt for oh-so-chic, mango-colored drapes. For others still, the perfect getaway requires a combination of both, with time for family fun and a double scoop of black raspberry chip ice cream, too.
Fortunately, Butler County offers travelers a range of ways to spend a weekend –– options that feature a mix of outdoor fun and adventure and indoor entertainment to nurture the need for discovery in all of us.
Feasts for the Eyes and the Appetite
Few museums boast the presence of both world-renowned artworks and the atmosphere for children to frolic around them like the 265-acre Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum in Hamilton. At Pyramid Hill, visitors can walk nature trails and encounter works such as Alexander Liberman’s massive “Abracadabra (#24),” a bright red, two-and-a-half-story-tall steel sculpture. Two other pieces by the noted artist, whose work is also on view at the Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, can be seen at Pyramid Hill.
Liberman’s sculptures share space with dozens of other art pieces, as well as picnic areas, paved roads, hiking trails and the stone walls of a house built by early settlers. The presence of Liberman’s works among dozens of others, including ones by Cincinnati’s Walter Driesbach and the prolific Bill Barrett, is a testament to the collection at Pyramid Hill, called among the most beautiful art parks in the nation byAtlantic Monthly magazine. Later this summer or in early fall, a new 10,000-square-foot Ancient Sculpture Museum, displaying Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman works of art, debuts at Pyramid Hill.
Taking a bus tour or self-guided driving tour along the paved roads in the park is a good way to see it all, and a great choice if you’ve had a tiring day. You can also rent a decorated golf cart — called an art cart — or walk from sculpture to sculpture, using the map available at the visitor center.
While Pyramid Hill is a true find for art lovers, a few miles south is a place that gourmands and lovers of whimsy will treasure: Jungle Jim’s International Market, a mammoth food emporium that beckons some 50,000 shoppers weekly to Fairfield. It is an eclectic cultural adventure to tour the aisles of produce, bakery, cheeses, packaged goods, condiments, and wines and beers from around the world, displayed with dancing mechanical characters and other props, including a vintage fire truck set atop shelves filled with an international array of hot sauces. Jungle Jim’s also offers a full schedule of cooking classes at its culinary school; check the Web site for details.
On the (Small) Town
When you want to feed the brain rather than the belly, it’s time for the charming town of Oxford, home of Miami University. Known for its red-brick buildings and leafy paths, Miami was described by poet Robert Frost as “the most beautiful college there is.”
The town of Oxford prides itself on its history, traditions and educational vision, and it teems with energy from the 14,000 bright-eyed undergrad-uates who attend Miami. There’s no mistaking that Oxford is an upscale college town, with its eclectic shops and coffee bars, bookstores and small museums — including the Miami University Art Museum and McGuffey Museum, which is located in the home of William Holmes McGuffey, nineteenth-century educator and publisher of McGuffey Eclectic Readers.
Stop by the Visitors Center at 30 West Park Place for a brochure detailing a self-guided Uptown Oxford Historic District Walking Tour, which covers a 12-block area. It provides brief descriptions of the historic and architectural significance of more than 100 sites in Oxford.
If you’re up for more walking, take a self-guided tour of the Miami University campus, with maps that are also available at the Visitors Center. That tour is sure to take you by Goggin Ice Center at 610 Oak St., a year-round facility that’s one of the newest campus buildings. It houses the nation’s largest intramural ice program and two varsity sports programs (the Miami ice hockey and Miami synchronized skating teams train here). Both town and gown are proud of their Miami Redhawks athletic teams. If time allows, get tickets and cheer on the home team while you’re in Oxford.
On the northern edge of town is the 206-foot Black Covered Bridge, at St. Rte. 732 and Corso Road. The span was built in 1869 over Four Mile (Talawanda) Creek and is the only covered bridge in Butler County remaining in its original location. It was restored in 2000.
Eating like the locals is easy in this walking town, where the High Street Grill and Skipper’s Pub are great spots for a quick bite or more leisurely repast.
Into the Woods
A few minutes north of Oxford, Hueston Woods State Park provides nearly 3,000 acres of natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities. The sprawling park is a top-notch family destination, with horseback riding, hiking, fishing, canoeing and even fossil hunting.
Hueston Woods includes Acton Lake, created in the summer of 1956 when an earthen dam was completed across Four Mile Creek. The lake is tranquil; boats are restricted to 10-horsepower motors. Summer visitors can enjoy the 1,500-foot public swimming beach, complete with concession stand and bathhouse. The best fishing here includes largemouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and bluegill. Nearby, golfers can get their fix at the popular 18-hole, 7,005-yard, par 72 golf course and driving ranges. The park also includes 10 miles of hiking trails and 12 miles of mountain-biking trails.
For those who enjoy camping, the park has many choices. There are 252 family camp sites with electrical outlets, showers, flush toilets and laundry, and 236 non-electric campsites, with vault-type latrines. Three camper cabins provide built-in bunks, air conditioning and outdoor gas grills.
Rustic accommodations are not the only lodging option, however. Overnight guests can enjoy lake-view balconies in the recently renovated, 96-room lodge at Hueston Woods Resort and Conference Center. There are also 25 family cottages, two premium cottages with a master bedroom suite and 10 efficiency cottages.
Hot Shopping and Cold Confections
Speaking of camping out, shoppers from as far away as Canada did just that to be first in line when IKEA opened its first Ohio location earlier this year in Butler County. The 339,000-square-foot mecca along I-75 in West Chester is, to the IKEA faithful, about much more than shopping. It’s worth devoting half a day of strolling through the model rooms of stylish contemporary home furnishings while the kids frolic in the play area. An on-site, 300-seat cafeteria-style restaurant offers American and Scandinavian dishes such as Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. To-go six-packs of freshly baked cinnamon buns are irresistible, and make for a sticky treat on the ride home.
Meatballs and cinnamon buns aren’t your favorite? You’re still in luck. IKEA borders West Chester’s bustling Union Centre Boulevard, where eateries and retail shops line the streets of this thriving district.
Just north, at I-75 and Tylersville Road, the area’s growth is also apparent. A weekend visit here should include a stop at the $10 million EnterTRAINment Junction, years in the planning and set to open this summer. The site will be the perfect place to spend an afternoon thrilling the kids with an impressive G-scale model railroad. With its more than two miles of track and 90 trains, EnterTRAINment Junction will feature the largest indoor model train layout in the world. The American Railroading Museum and a 5,000-square-foot play area with a climbing structure will round out the fun.
A visit to Butler County isn’t complete without a stop at one of the area’s impressive parks that feature both recreation and historical exploration. The 325-acre Voice of America Park is a hot spot for hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, and a host of festivities throughout the year. If the weather is clear, look up: There’s a good chance you’ll see colorful kites, hot-air balloons or a paraglider in the sky. Look down, and you might spot remote-control sailboats in the nearby ponds. Rent a paddleboat or canoe at the lake, or just walk around it on the paved walkway and ask the many anglers if the fish are nibbling.
And make it a priority to stop in at the Voice of America Museum, housed in the former Voice of America Bethany Station, which broadcast messages of freedom and democracy around the world for more than 50 years, beginning in 1944. The 1940s-era art-deco building houses artifacts and memorabilia from the Gray History of Wireless Museum and the Media Heritage collection. The West Chester Amateur Radio Club operates a short-wave radio station, WC8VOA, from the Relay Station. It might be the first time your kids have heard of the Voice of America, but the volunteers in the museum are happy to explain how it all worked and show the progression of radio technology.
Just across Cox Road from Voice of America Park is University Pointe, a retail center where you can stop for a refreshing, delicious break at the only Butler County location of Graeter’s, the acclaimed Cincinnati-based ice cream maker. The creamy treat has been given a shout out by numerous celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey. Graeter’s signature flavor, black raspberry chip, has a fanatical fan base. As you savor your scoop, think about all there is to see and do in Butler County — and plan your next visit.
For assistance in planning your trip to Butler County, call 888/462-2282 or visit www.destinationbutlercounty.com