The excitement of the great outdoors is back at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, after taking a couple of years off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Families can find fun and free activities at the Natural Resources Park open to all in the southeast corner of the fairgrounds every day from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. during the State Fair, which runs July 27 to Aug. 7 in Columbus.
“People at the state fair may not realize how much outdoor adventure we have here in Ohio,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. “That’s why we put it all in one place at the fair, letting people test their skills with a fishing rod or on the pond – and I hope this experience will inspire families to go out and discover all the amazing places we have all over the state.”
Children can stop by to receive a personal greeting from Smokey Bear before they go exploring. The current Smokey animatronic character was installed in 2015 and continues his mission to teach fairgoers how they can prevent wildfires.
The Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft (ODPW) is introducing a new Virtual Reality exhibit allowing visitors to paddleboard or kayak through some of Ohio’s most breathtaking water features. Participants will begin by choosing their watercraft and locations, including Lake Erie, Miami River, and the Ohio River. Guests will be fitted with life jackets, an Oculus headset and two controllers which simulate paddles. Video monitors will allow viewers to see what the participants are experiencing.
The ODPW has also added a brand-new nature center. Like what you’d see when visiting one of Ohio’s 75 state parks, such as East Harbor State Park in Marblehead, each nature center will be home to live animals, interactive games, and educational information about Ohio’s wildlife. Located near the Division’s camper, yurt, and display about state park lodges, the nature center will be open to visitors throughout the day.
Other new sights and sounds inside the Natural Resources Park this year include upgraded structures along the Division of Wildlife boardwalk and a restored wetland area where families can learn about the H2Ohio initiative.
Visitors to the Natural Resources Park will get an up-close look at the park’s newest resident, a life-size sculpture of Dunkleosteus terrelli, Ohio’s State Fossil Fish. This sculpture, affectionately known as “Daphne,” is a recent addition to the Geological Walk-Through Time exhibit.
Popular attractions, including the kayak pond and youth fishing, will be brought back this summer. The amphitheater will come alive with free shows every day of the Ohio State Fair. Guests can anticipate the must see, Great Lakes Lumberjack Show, featuring chainsaw carving, log rolling, and a whole lot of laughs.
At the Scenic Rivers Touch Pond, visitors can learn about crayfish and small stream fish found throughout Ohio’s streams and rivers. Head over to the Butterfly House and witness the life cycle of around 400 butterflies. Or just walk along the pathways to learn about varieties of native trees found across the Buckeye State.