The Great American Campout

Hiking in the woods, stargazing and telling stories around the fire.

What do you remember about camping as a kid?

The memories that many families make together while enjoying nature and camping can last a lifetime.

Your next family adventure could be at the Westerville Parks & Recreation Great American Campout on Friday, September 11 at Heritage Park.

The Stein family participated in this overnight campout last year. It was the first time both seven year-old Alex and four year-old Zach went camping.

“The boys loved it. We already had a tent and thought it was a good way to introduce the kids to camping in a familiar setting,” said Jessica Stein, the boys’ mother.

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That was just what M.J. Smith, Westerville Parks and Recreation Naturalist, had in mind when launching the program.

“When I was a kid, I never got to go camping, and I always wanted to have that experience,” says Smith. “It inspired me to create this opportunity. This is a chance for first-time campers to get out in nature and try sleeping in a tent, all while still being close to home if younger children get uncomfortable.”

The event is a great for experienced campers as well.

“Our lives can get hectic, and even families who love to camp may have a hard time getting away. We supply the food, a space with restrooms and entertainment. Since participants don’t have to travel far or pack as many supplies as a typical camping trip, they can spend quality time with their families without having to worry about every detail,” said Smith.

After setting up tents, the night kicks off with a cookout, and of course, S’mores.

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“Kids get to learn how to safely make a meal over a campfire. There are a lot of children who either get overly excited around fire or scared. We want to avoid little ones swinging flaming marshmallows back and forth, so it is extremely important to go over the basics,” says Smith. “We teach them fire is a tool and just like a tool in your parent’s work box, you don’t use it without permission.”

As dinner wraps up, families can make craft before a night hike begins. Smith says the nature walk is her favorite part of the event.

“We walk the path together without flashlights looking for different kinds of animals and plants. Once everyone’s eyes adjust to the darkness, they realize they can actually see more and become better aware of their surroundings.”

The Stein brothers also enjoyed the night time experience. “It was really neat to see the park after hours; the moon was bright and helped guide our way,” said Stein. “Alex was a little afraid of the dark and held my hand, but he relaxed as we walked around and started using our other senses.”

After the walk, the group is free to play outside and then wind down for bed.

“I distinctly remember kids playing flashlight tag and my husband telling stories inside the tent before going to sleep,” said Stein. “I was surprised. We all slept well. It was quiet and you couldn’t tell we were still in the City.”

She says the whole family can’t wait to do the campout again. “We had a lot of fun. The kids learned new things and we got to unplug and make new memories together.”


And what does young Zach Stein remember best?

“I found my first frog!” he exclaimed.

For more details on the Great American Campout and registration information, visit this link.

Education & Exploration

Discover the Benefits of Outdoor Exploration

“Look what we found, M.J.! What kind of animal is it?”

Josie and Vera Johnson, vibrant seven year-old twins, stumbled upon tracks left in the snow while playing at Heritage Park just last week.

“Those are deer tracks,” explained M.J. Smith, Westerville Parks and Recreation staff naturalist, who specializes in outdoor and wildlife programming. 

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Both Josie and Vera are veteran participants in Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Explorers class that M.J. teaches every quarter. The duo gets a kick out of testing M.J.’s knowledge.

“It is so cool when we see something. We just ask M.J. and she tells us what it is,” said Josie Johnson. 

Outdoor Explorers is one of three nature courses in a specific “Outdoor” series aimed at children of different ages. Outdoor Discoverers and Outdoor Adventurers, along with Outdoor Explorers, expose kids to quality time in the parks while learning about various animals and plants that inhabit the region.

A short walk down the path reveals the sound of a bird. M.J. and the girls stop to find a woodpecker high in the trees.

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“There are opportunities all around us in nature to learn,” said Smith. “Part of the program is structured, but it is also vital that kids have the opportunity to ask questions, search, and play freely. If we didn’t take the time to pause and use the binoculars to spot the Red Bellied Woodpecker, we may have never seen the beautiful color of that particular bird.” 

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These tidbits of information from the classes are sticking with the students. 

“When children can touch, hear and see the things we are talking about, it really helps them retain information,” said Smith. “There are four classes within each course and by the last day, the kids are pointing out types of flowers or in this instance, Josie was able to identify a poison ivy vine right away and Vera found flower buds from a red maple tree.”

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This dedicated time to experience the natural world provides more benefits than just education. Studies show spending time outdoors can improve social skills, academic performance, stress levels and creativity to name a few.

“We all have access to this wonderful tool that can help not only improve our well-being, but improve the quality of life for our youth. I see it in the kids on a weekly basis, their energy levels and excitement while soaking in green space in undeniable,” said Smith.

Josie and Vera’s Mom, Vanessa, says all these combined benefits are why she continues to enroll her girls in the course.

“Every time Josie and Vera take this class, they get something new out of it,” said Johnson. They are becoming more attuned to nature, making new friends and developing a great relationship with an adult mentor.”

As Josie and Vera stomp in rain puddles giggling, it is apparent that the girls want to engage in this type of activity too. 

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“We love the class! It is fun!” tells Vera.

According to the tree buds M.J. discovered with the Josie and Vera, spring is on its way and so is the next session of outdoors classes in May. For class details and registration information on Outdoor Discoverers, Explorers and Adventurers, visit the Westerville website at this link.

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Education & Exploration

And the Winner is…

Thanks to all who participated in the Winter Wonders in Westerville Instagram Contest. Congratulations to Mary Pat Turner who took first place with her winter photo taken at Heritage Park!

Photo by Mary Pat Turner

Photo by Mary Pat Turner
Heritage Park

Check out some of the other top images from the contest below. We encourage you to continue to tag us in your winter photos using #westervillewinterwonders. And be sure to stay tuned for our next Parks and Recreation social media contest.

Photo by Terrence N. Banbury Westerville B&W Pedestrian Bridge at sunrise

Photo by Terrence N. Banbury
Westerville B&W Pedestrian Bridge at sunrise

Photo by Keiko Kume

Photo by Keiko Kume

Photo by  Anita Sherrard  Millstone Creek Park

Photo by Anita Sherrard
Millstone Creek Park

Photo by Brenda Turner Everal Barn and Homestead

Photo by Brenda Turner
Everal Barn and Homestead

Photo by Allison Graham

Photo by Allison Graham

Photo by Julianne Ward

Photo by Julianne Ward

Photo by  Diana Lynn Noble Trigg

Photo by Diana Lynn Noble Trigg

Photo by  Amy Welty

Photo by Amy Welty

Photo by Roger Howard Westerville City Hall

Photo by Roger Howard
Westerville City Hall


Creative Arts

An Everal Love Story

Planning that big day. It’s the one dream many little girls have in common from an early age…their wedding day.

Months of preparation and excitement all culminate into a very special moment for a bride and groom. That moment came over the weekend at Everal Barn and Homestead for one of our very own, Parks and Recreation Facility Specialist Kim Sipe and her now husband Sean Stark.

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Kim began her career with Parks and Recreation in July of 2000, the same month the newly renovated Everal Barn and Homestead at Heritage Park was dedicated. This was the start of Kim’s love for the historic Westerville icon.

You can rent space from the Community Center, Everal Barn and Homestead, Highlands Park Aquatic Center, Park Shelters, the Program Center and even the Senior Center. In her role with the City, Kim is the first point of contact for most of these Parks and Recreation rentals.

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“Kim is essential to our rental operations. She receives hundreds of calls a week about rentals.  She loves talking to people about what the department has to offer,” said Parks and Recreation Facilities Operations Manager Katie Siroky.

In more than 14 years with the City, Kim has helped schedule hundreds of weddings at Everal Barn.

“No matter how many rentals there are, Kim always adds a special touch. She is passionate and super detail-oriented and it shows throughout the rental process,” said Katie.

So when it came to picking a venue for her own wedding, there was only one option in Kim’s mind: Everal Barn.

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“I grew up in Westerville and Everal is the perfect location. The grounds are beautiful, parking is great and the set-up is just what I wanted. Why would I get married anywhere else? It feels like home,” said Kim.

This sense of ownership of Everal Barn resonates through the entire staffing team.

“Everal is a unique and special place. Everyone who works at the Barn takes pride in the facility and treats it as their own. They really love and respect this location. The farmhouse and barn date back to the late 1800’s and are on the National Register of Historic Places, so they mean a lot to us and the community,” said Katie.

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Everal Barn can accommodate much more than weddings and parties. The site can host up to 150 people at a time during the week for businesses and organizations to hold meetings, team-building workshops and speakers.

“It is a great change of scenery for any type of event. The venue is affordable and flexible. You can even bring in your own food at no charge; and there is always a staff person on site to help,” said Katie.

One of the many advantages to renting Everal is the blank canvas you can use to fit your specific event needs.

“It is a prime Pinterest venue. You can do whatever your imagination allows. It is very picturesque,” said Katie.

Kim was able to add her own style and play off the rustic theme of the Barn and autumn foliage at Heritage Park for her wedding.

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“I’ve gathered so many wonderful ideas from other weddings that have taken place here and wanted to incorporate seasonal flowers and decorations,” she said. “With the leaves turning and the fall weather, it is the perfect time of year to swing open the barn doors for the ceremony.”

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On Saturday, October 11, that vision came to life. As Kim was surrounded by people she loves, a place she loves, and the man she loves, she said “I do.” A perfect example of the truly magical moments that have and will continue to take place at Everal Barn and Homestead.

Congratulations Kim and Sean!

For more information on Parks and Recreation rentals, click here or call 614-901-6515 to reach Kim (After her honeymoon, of course!)

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Parks & Facilities