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Fun in the sun: Area offers plenty to keep kids entertained through summer

Leigh Ann Laube • Jun 20, 2013 at 2:14 AM

Whether you’re into hiking, camping, canoeing, making fossil casts, riding a zip line, learning what it takes to be an astronaut or crawling through a giant artery, there’s plenty for you and your kids to do this summer — despite what they may tell you.Bays Mountain Park, the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at Gray Fossil Site, Hands On! Regional Museum, Natural Tunnel State Park and Warriors’ Path State Park offer a variety of programs, both educational and entertaining, for the whole family.Bays Mountain ParkBays Mountain is a 3,550-acre nature preserve and the largest city-owned park in the state of Tennessee. Visitors to the Kingsport park can enjoy a picturesque 44-acre lake, a Nature Center with a state-of-the-art Planetarium Theater, animal habitats featuring wolves, bobcats, raptors and reptiles, and an Adventure Ropes Course complete with a 300-foot zip line. Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the park’s 38 miles of trails for hiking, running, sight-seeing, exploration and mountain biking.Bays Mountain’s new planetarium show is a triple-feature entitled “Astronaut,” which looks into what it takes to become an astronaut. The show’s second and third feature is a live presentation utilizing some of the capabilities of the park’s Carl Zeiss ZKP-4 star projector, as well as its digital projection system. The program will highlight the current night sky and point out easily visible constellations and planets. The third feature includes a short presentation on space exploration of the past and where we are going.Entrance to the park is $4 per vehicle. Planetarium Theater shows are $4 each for ages 6 and older. Nature programs are $2 each. Barge rides are $3 each. The zip line is $10 each.The park grounds are open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 8 p.m., Sunday. For a daily program schedule, call 229-9447or visit www.baysmountain.com.East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at Gray Fossil SiteThe 5 million-year-old Gray Fossil Site was discovered by a road construction project in May 2000. The museum offers views of an ongoing fossil dig, interactive exhibits, education programs for people of all ages, and temporary exhibits that change seasonally.The site is located on Highway 75 approximately 1.8 miles from the Gray, Tenn. exit from Interstate 26.The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. General admission is $3 for children ages 3-12, $6 for ages 13-55, and $4 for seniors, veterans, active military and reservists, students, teachers, ETSU faculty and staff. For more information, call 439-3659, (866) 202-6223 or visit http://www.etsu.edu/naturalhistorymuseum/default.aspx.Hands On! Regional MuseumHands On! features more than 20 permanent, interactive exhibits with names like Waterplay Dam, The Ark, Kindermart, Fort Adventure, Down on the Farm, Bubbles, Wings and Coal Mine. Through Sept. 1, the museum will play host to “Body Carnival: The Science and Fun of Being You,” which uses carnival-themed components to explore the connections between perception and the laws of physics within the human body.Visitors are invited to crawl through a giant artery to see and hear the effects of plaque build-up on blood flow; test their balance as they walk through the 10-foot long Dizzy Tunnel, which simulates a rotating star field; put on a pair of vision-distorting goggles and discover how sight affects the ability to walk straight; experiment in the House of Color with different sources of light; and “hear” through their bones and muscles while learning how these transmit sound.The museum is located at 315 E. Main St. in Johnson City. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday. Admission is $8 for everyone age 3 and up.For more information, call 434-HAND or visit handsonmuseum.org.Natural Tunnel State Park

More than 850 feet long and as tall as a 10-story building, Natural Tunnel was naturally carved through a limestone ridge over thousands of years. Natural Tunnel State Park is in Scott County, Va., about 13 miles north of Gate City and 20 miles north of Kingsport.The park offers two campgrounds, cabins, picnic areas, an amphitheater, a visitor center, a camp store, a gift shop, and mountain biking and walking trails. You'll also find the Wilderness Road historic area, a 5,400-square-foot swimming pool with a 100-foot slide, and a chairlift to the tunnel floor. Guests can enjoy cave tours and canoe trips on the Clinch River, as well as the Cove Ridge Center, which offers environmental education, conference facilities and overnight dorm accommodations.Weather and river conditions permitting, guided canoe and kayak trips of the Clinch River are offered on Saturdays and Sundays in season. Trips to Natural Tunnel via Stock Creek and Wild Cave Tours are offered throughout the summ e r.For more information, including fees and park hours, call (276) 940-2674 or visit http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/nat.shtml.Warriors’ Path State ParkWarriors’ Path State Park, located just two miles southeast of Kingsport, offers more than 950 acres of natural beauty situated on the shores of TVA’s Patrick Henry Reservoir on the Holston R i v e r.Visitors can play at Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground, and enjoy boating, canoeing, camping, fishing, golfing, swimming, horseback riding and mountain biking. Tennis, basketball and disc golf are available. There are 12 miles of hiking trails and 8 1/2miles of biking trails.The park offers a free Summer in the Park program through mid-August. The program features different activities each week but always includes guided nature hikes, wildlife demonstrations, nature games, traditional games, evening campfire talks, creek walks and Junior Ranger programs. Most activities do not require pre-registration.The park is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information about the Summer in the Park program, email Park Naturalist Marty Silver at Marty.Silver@tn.gov or call him at 239-6786. For general information about the park, call the main office at 239-8531 or visit www.tn.gov/environment/parks/WarriorsPath.

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