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January 2011
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Kid stuff

Child proof?
Just how kid friendly is Charlottesville?
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Several years ago, we lived next door to a couple who were avid UVA sports fans. They had season tickets for both men's basketball and football and traveled to every away game within driving distance. Once when I had one son in middle and one in high school, Leroy knocked on our door offering the boys a pair of tickets for that evening’s basketball game. “U-Hall is completely safe,” he assured me. “It’s very kid friendly.”

But I was not assured. Having grown up in a big city where even adults had difficulty navigating the crowds and corridors of local sports venues, I wasn’t about to turn my kids loose in a large, anonymous arena.

Well, it turned out I was wrong: U-Hall was a kid friendly place. I went along that first night, bought a ticket in general admission, and was surprised to find that I could actually keep my eye on the boys in their box seats. After that, I never felt uncomfortable about dropping them off at the door and waving goodbye.

But U-Hall, which seated a cozy 8,457, is no longer the home of Cavalier basketball. It’s bigger, glitzier replacement, the 16,000-seat John Paul Jones arena, is definitely not kid friendly. While the variety of family entertainment available in town has expanded with the addition of larger venues such as JPJ, bigger is not always better for kids as the new arena is just too unwieldy for a kid to be able to get around without feeling lost. And the bigger price tag that accompanies expansion also makes these new offerings harder to manage on our family’s budget.

I have the same feeling about the new Pavilion. My boys and I used to enjoy many a Friday evening listening to local musicians and picnicking on the grassy slopes of the Downtown Amphitheater. But not only is the Pavilion unsightly and the sound too loud and distorted under the cement-lined canopy, it too is unfriendly to families. So far as I can tell, babies in strollers and children flinging Frisbees are no longer part of the Fridays After Five scene.

Still, lots of family events and activities have sprouted around town in recent years that make Charlottesville and environs a great place for raising kids. The McIntire Skatepark (244-0166), for example, which has just reopened after some much-needed renovations, gives kids on wheels a great and safe place to challenge their fear factor and develop stunt skills. New monthly Toddler Time hikes at Ivy Creek Natural Area (973-7772) get wee ones back to nature early, and new trails at Ragged Mountain Natural Area (973-7772) give them a chance to grow in the wild (at least until the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority clear cuts 180 acres of hardwood forest and floods much of the area for a new, controversial reservoir).

In the last ten years or so, it’s been easier for families to find out what’s going on, too. In addition to the Hook’s weekly calendar of must-do events (shameless plug, I know), books such as the Free Union Country School’s Family Field Guide to Charlottesville and Beyond and the AlbemarleFamily Let's Go! Guide (both available at local bookstores) help parents sort through the variety of family-oriented programs, places, and things to do around town. And every spring, two summer camp fairs at St. Anne’s Belfield and the Omni Hotel help parents answer the nagging question, What will I do with the kids all summer?

So, has Charlottesville become more or less family friendly over the last few years? Despite the two big behemoth venues in town, the answer is, yes!


Virginia Discovery Museum- East end of the Downtown Mall- A hands-on, interactive children's museum for kids ages 1-13 featuring 12 permanent exhibits, rotating exhibits in the Discovery Corner, and changing Back Gallery exhibits. Other ongoing programs include Magic School Bus, Poetry Clubs, Tuesday Travelers, Toddler Times, Friday Fun and drop-in art projects. Tues-Sat 10am-5pm. Sun 1-5. $4 all ages except under 1 year old free; $75 annually for a family membership or the $125 explorer membership, which gets you into 160 different kids museums nation-wide. 977-1025

The Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center - In Darden Towe Park, Rt. 20 north- This hands-on facility commemorates the hometown origins of Lewis and Clark's westward journey. While the museum buildings have yet to go up, there's still a lot of activity going on giving kids young and old the chance to experience the excitement of the expedition. On display are full-size replicas of a keelboat, pirogues, and dugout canoes-- water craft used on the first leg of the expedition-- all constructed at the site by young volunteers using hand tools and historic techniques. Saturdays May through October 10am-4pm and Sundays 12pm-4pm. $3 per person. 979-2425.

McCormick Observatory - McCormick Road at the top of Observatory Hill- UVA's astronomy department opens the dome at the observatory and allows visitors to step up to three research telescopes for awesome views of the heavens. Department staff and graduate students answer questions and narrate a slide show. First and third Friday nights (weather permitting) 9-11pm DST. 7-9pm EST. Free. 924-7494

Putt Putt Golf Course - 1515 Putt-Putt Place - Legendary miniature golf, with two 18-hole courses suitable for even the smallest golfers. A hole-in-one still wins a discounted game. Open daily March 1 - November 30, 10am-11pm, depending on weather. $6 per person. 973-5509

ACAC Adventure Central- With a three-pool water park complete with slides, fountains and a huge floating crocodile, classrooms, indoor playstructures, tennis courts, and an indoor sports arena, Adventure Central is home to a summer camp, an after-school program, birthday parties, sports academies in the summer and winter, and the Charlottesville Day School. 978-7529

Old Michie Theatre - 221 E. Water St.- Inspiring students with the joy of live theatre and puppetry arts is the mission of this educational and performance venue for kids. Classes, workshops, summer camps, along with public performances of children's plays and puppet shows. Kids can even audition and make their stage debut. See website for performance schedule. 977-3690

Kegler's Bowling Lanes - 2000 Seminole Trail- There are lots of family perks at this bowling alley, including bumpers available on all lanes to help little bowlers keep the ball out of the gutter, a newly refurbished arcade room, seven billiard tables, and a snack bar. Mon noon-11pm, Tues-Wed 9am-11pm, Thurs 10am-11pm, Fri noon-1am, Sat 9am-1am, Sun noon-11pm. Fees: Mon-Fri before 5pm: $5.10; after 5pm and all weekends: $6.35. Shoe rental is $4.73. 978-3999

UVA sports, various locations - Football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and lots of other competitive sports are very accessible for families at the university. Sports fans can find some sort of game or match several times a week during the school year and even some during the summer. Kids up to 8th grade can sign up for Cavalier Kids Club for $40 a season and get free admission to six sports, freebies, and meet and greet opportunities. Check the website for schedules. Call the UVA ticket office for information, ticket prices, and Kids Club sign up: 924-8821.

-->>For more, check our Sports and Recreation section.

Science Museum of Virginia - 2500 W. Broad St., Richmond- Hands-on and interactive exhibits make science fun for the whole family. Exciting rotating exhibits and an engaging array of permanent displays, IMAX movies, planetarium shows, special events, and lots more. Check website for hours and admission fees. 800-659-1727 or 804-864-1400

Children's Museum of Richmond - 2626 W. Broad St., Richmond- An award-winning place for kids ages 12 and under to learn while they play. Lots of active, hands-on, entertaining displays; rotating exhibits; and special events and programs. Check website for hours and admission fees. 804-474-2667 or 804-474-7000

Frontier Culture Museum - Rt. 250 west in Staunton or exit 222 from I-81- A unique experiential museum portraying the historical context of our immigrant ancestors with authentic 17th, 18th, and 19th century working farms and costumed interpreters from Germany, Northern Ireland, England, and the Shenandoah Valley. Daily: 9am-5pm.Winter hours: Dec. 1 - March 31; 10am-4pm. Adult $10, children 6-12 $6, under 6 free. 540-332-7850

Fruit fun - Three of the closest to town are Carter Mountain Orchard (977-1833) next to Michie Tavern, which offers apples, peaches, and stunning mountain-top views in the summer, Chiles Peach Orchard (823-1583) near Crozet which also grows blackberries, apples and melons, and pumpkins in the fall and The Berry Patch (963-0659) which has blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries in the spring.

The Gypsy Express - You think Charlottesville's got trains? Our Valley neighbor, Staunton, is train central-- at least for the kiddies. Not only can you ride an Amtrak over to Staunton, but once you're there you'll find a miniature train in Gypsy Hill Park. The mini-train was revived by a nonprofit a few summers ago after several years of flooding and track problems that kept it out of service. Volunteers now operate it on weekends during warm months. The train loops around a narrow-gauge track complete with two bridges and two tunnels. Can you scream? "You're supposed to; otherwise the engineer goes to sleep," says the nonprofit's president, John Zinn. It's $1 a ride, which consists of four loops-- "unless they lose count," notes Zinn, "and then you get five." And if your tots get bored riding the rails, they'll perk up when you whip out a loaf of bread and stroll over to the adjacent duck pond. Sat 12pm-6pm, Sun 1pm-5pm. 540-885-0513

Youth organizations

Boys and Girls Club-  The goal here is to "help youth from all backgrounds (with a special concern for youth from disadvantaged circumstances) develop qualities and skills needed to become responsible citizens and leaders. Trained staff provide programs that enhance character and self esteem, are educational and fun, and contribute to the development of youth by allowing the member to realize and reach their full potential." With locations at Cherry Avenue, Southwood, and Jack Jouett Middle School, it's for children ages 6-18. Fees range from $35 to $50, depending on the club's location. Their administrative office is located at 108 5th St. on Downtown Mall. 977-2001

Boy Scouts-  Part of the Boy Scouts of America and Stonewall Jackson Area Council, the Monticello District includes troops all over Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Orange, Madison, Fluvanna, and Greene Counties. Open to all boys ages 7-21. Info: 434-882-0611 or [email protected].

Cub Scouts- It all starts right here for the young scout. The Monticello District is home to 33 different packs in Charlottesville, Albemarle and surounding counties. 434-882-0611 or [email protected].

Girl Scouts- Unlike Boy Scouts who help old ladies across the street and get to dance around campfires at their Order of the Arrow induction, Girl Scouts "inspires girls ages 5-17 with the highest ideals of character, conduct, patriotism and service so that they may become happy and resourceful citizens." 296-5156 or 296-5157.

Hoof-N-Woof 4-H Club- Horse ownership not required. The 30-year-old program meets the second Thursday of every month at 7pm throughout the school year emphasizing horse education. Open to ages 9-19. Info: Bertha Durbin, 973-8755.

Young Women Leaders Program- For middle school-aged girls, this mentoring program pairs girls with "Big Sisters" from UVA. The program includes twice-weekly meetings throughout the school year.  924-8979




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