Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Fun things to do with your grandchildren

by HEATHER ROTH hroth@indianagazette.net on July 18, 2013 11:00 AM

There’s a castle in Strongstown.

There are walking and biking trails that take you all the way to Ebensburg.

There’s a storybook trail in Rayne Township and fishing at Blue Spruce and boats for rent on the beach at Yellow Creek and canoeing down in Saltsburg.

And Punxsutawney Phil and the Johnstown Incline are just short drives away.

So when the grandkids come this year, no one gets to say, “I’m bored.”

“I know a lot of the time people say ‘Oh, there’s nothing here for kids to do,’ but you just have to look for it,” said Penny Perman, director of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau. “We do have a lot here.”

First, there are the outdoor opportunities. With summer sunshine and warm temperatures, Perman said she would focus on the parks, trails and recreational opportunities in the county.

“I think a lot of the outdoor, recreational stuff is really cool,” she said.

There’s a beach and swimming area at Yellow Creek State Park, where groups or families can also rent a boat to take out on the lake.

“That could be an afternoon,” Perman said.

Of course there are hiking trails there as well, and picnic areas and a playground.

Fishing is available at Blue Spruce Park, where there are also walking trails and picnic areas and a “really nice” playground.

For younger elementary-aged kids, Evergreen Conservancy has a “storybook trail” at the Tanoma Wetlands. The story (this summer it’s “Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat,” by Cynthia Rylant) is told over a number of plaques set up along a trail. (The walk is about half a mile long, out and back, on an ADA-approved path.)

Cindy Rogers of the Evergreen Conservancy said the path can be accessed any time, and there are about 30 pages along the trail. The path runs along Crooked Creek, and a number of the trees and plants along the trail are marked with their names, for those interested in plants.

Friends of the Parks holds a number of events around the area parks, like lessons in lighting fires without matches on Saturday evening or a night hike in August.

Finally, “Don’t forget about the nurseries and specialty farms,” Perman said. Children from big cities might enjoy seeing where their food is grown before picking out a few ears of corn to take home for dinner.

“They might never have seen a tractor before,” she pointed out.

But too much fun in the sun can wear a person out, and Indiana County offers a number of interesting, indoor activities as well. Topping the list is Dane Castle, in Strongstown.

Built in the model of a 12th century Norman keep (it imitates the White Tower in London), the castle is run by husband and wife Mike Mahalko and Cathy Homer. They have a weapons collection displayed in the castle, including armor and chain mail; and schedule tours through October.

“It’s really cool,” Perman said. “I think that’s a unique experience.”

Up north in Smicksburg is Amish Country, where Patty Painter and Mary Lou Rolls put on an Amish Wedding Feast the first Saturday of each month — provided there’s sufficient interest.

Rolls said the food is prepared by an Amish woman and served family-style by servers dressed as Amish people. While guests eat dinner (chicken, potatoes and gravy, stuffing, noodles, creamed peas, coleslaw, bread and butter, a drink and pie for dessert), Painter tells about Amish customs and weddings. Rolls said the meal lasts up to two hours and costs $27.95 a person.

“They’re really a hidden gem,” Perman said.

Heading south this time, the Underground Railroad Historical Center in Blairsville tells of Indiana County abolitionists who worked to help escaping slaves find their way to freedom. Tours are by reservation only.

Perman said she hears from a lot of families that really like the center, and called it a “really unique experience.”

And it wouldn’t be summer without summer festivals, like the Indiana County Fair in late August or the Thunder Mountain Lenape Nation festival, also in August, in Saltsburg.

“Summertime’s a great time for that,” Perman said.

For links to the places highlighted here, a schedule of annual events and many other activities, visit the tourist bureau at visitindi anacountypa.org.

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