OHIO Cottages take you back to nature

Renting a cottage is the perfect way to 'get away from it all' without leaving the comforts behind.
COLUMBUS -- Looking for a place to get away from it all while still enjoying many of the comforts of home? Well, one of Ohio State Parks' cottages might be just the place for you.
It was for the Fernandez, Yochus, Jackson, Stolk and Hladik families when we all converged on Lake Hope State Park late last year. All 19 of us, ranging in age from 64-years-old to 16 months, in four neighboring cottages. An early Christmas present from our parents, Joe and Joan Fernandez.
Joe, or Dad as I call him, said he saw it as a chance for the family to be together while maintaining our independence.
All that was asked was one meal a day as a unit.
"It was more or less supposed to be a rest and relaxation kind of thing where the families could bond," he said.
"The big thing is we wanted each family to have their own space."
Who should go: It's for those who need the comfort of a bed and a sanctuary from all of natures many inhabitants, all the amenities of home, including relatively comfortable bedrooms and living area, private bathrooms, with showers and flush toilets and a kitchen complete with dishes and cook ware. And for those who just can't be cut off from "the real world" is a television.
Each cabin also features a large screened-in deck, accessible from the cabin only, a porch and a fire ring for the more rustic types.
"It's a nice happy medium for those who want to get back to nature, but not do the camping thing," says Patti Barnett, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Barnett said some of the parks have completely overhauled their cabins, but generally modernization, repairs and improvements are done gradually and are often based on the comments of patrons.
"A lot of times its a matter of funding," she said.
Park activities and local events and attractions often play a key role in the number of cottages rented at any one time.
Walk into any park lodge and you'll find row upon row of brochures featuring present and future park activities as well as local attractions. Each lobby also features wall displays or bulletin boards highlighting the activities of the week or month.
The lodge where we checked in was no exception and we were able to fill our pockets and thoughts with the many activities we might enjoy.
Activities: Throughout this relaxing weekend were a myriad of things to do including the celebrations of two birthdays and a train ride.
Thanksgiving was marked by a new twist to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. Our "adopted" family from Holland cooked it in a trash can surrounded by hot coals. The rest of the meal was a hodge podge from each of our kitchens. Of course there was plenty of football and hiking for those who wanted to be outside and board games inside for those who didn't care to brave the cold weather. Two of our group were even willing to keep another Thanksgiving tradition and went shopping in Lancaster.
Of course the highlight of the trip was a train ride through the countryside with Santa Claus. The adults enjoyed the ride while the kids each had a turn visiting with the large red elf and his wife as he walked along the train aisles. To keep the kids busy, the conductor played tape-recorded music while our group sang Christmas carols at the top of our lungs.
The area also boasts a well-known boot factory, many small shops to visit and churches of various religions. The outdoor activities also include a lake to fish or swim in, play areas for the kids and miles and miles of trails to hike.
So if you are looking for a fun filled yet relaxing weekend and a place to just get away, check out the Ohio State Parks. You might just find what you are looking for in your own part of the state or have the chance to explore other parts.
Whom to contact: Barnett said cottages can be reserved anywhere from a month to a year in advance by calling the individual parks or by calling (800) AT-A-PARK. The park's busiest times are usually between April and October when they rent by the week. During the remainder of the year, cottages can be rented on a daily or weekend basis.
The parks usually boast special pricing and promotions during those "off peak" times of the year, including three nights for the price of two on the weekends.
Barnett said the state-run cottages and lodges are different than resort lodges also found in or near state parks.
She said resort lodges are often run by private companies and offer similar comforts and features for a larger price.
"There can be a pretty big difference in the price," Barnett said. "There really isn't much difference in amenities."
XFor more information, call (800) BUCKEYE, (614) 265-7000 or visit www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks on the Web.

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