“Ohio? You’re moving to Ohio?!?”
“Aren’t you going the opposite way?”
“Is there even a highway to get from here to there?”
You can imagine my anxiety as people made these comments when I told them we were being stationed at Wright Patterson in Dayton, Ohio. I knew that going from living among the beautiful views of Charleston, South Carolina, for four years and then uprooting our family to trek up to Ohio was not going to be easy. People typically move from Ohio to South Carolina, but rarely the opposite. There are even bumper stickers and a website that say “Go Back to Ohio” in South Carolina!
Maybe these comments made my expectations low. Maybe I just had no idea what to expect since this was our first permanent change of station. Regardless, I have come to realize that Dayton, Ohio, is entirely underrated.
The people in Dayton and the surrounding little cities are incredibly friendly. They are warm and welcoming and, a lot of times, will jump right in to help you if they see you struggling. Back in South Carolina, I used to get asked at grocery stores if I needed help out to the car. Here, if they see me struggling with putting my youngest in the grocery cart and chasing down my oldest, who has Down syndrome, before he knocks over cans upon cans of food throughout the store, they don’t even ask if I need help; they stop what they are doing and help with a smile on their faces and no judgement.
The military population is huge here and spread out all over Dayton and the surrounding cities, thus making it easy to get plugged in as soon as you move here regardless of which neighborhood you choose to live in.
Oh, the parks! I’ve never seen so many parks in just one area. Each park is unique in its own way. There is an all-access park (Activity Center Park) within walking distance from us that allows my oldest son to be able to climb up on the play structures. Because of his special needs, he typically struggles to be able to do this by himself at other parks. Carriage Hill and Possum Creek Metro Parks have animals. Wegerzyn Gardens has a musical maze, water creek/tunnels, and a sand area for the kids. JF Kennedy Park has a farm-themed playground and spray play area.
Speaking of spray playgrounds, they are everywhere! Five Oaks, Fairvew, Orchardly, Mallory, Mcintosh, Thomas A. Cloud, Washington, Stuart Patterson . . . the list of spray parks goes on and on. And a lot of these have playgrounds next to them, too, so you can let your kids run around and dry off before getting into the car. If you include the surrounding cities clustered around Dayton, there are over 130 parks! Over 130. Needless to say, if my kids ever get bored of our regular parks we visit, there are plenty more to see.
What traffic? Yes, that’s right … traffic doesn’t exist (much) here. If I type in an address and it says my destination is 5 miles away, guess how long it takes me to get there? Seven to 10 minutes! Five miles away in the stunning city of Charleston meant a 20 to 25 minute drive at certain times of the day. I’m sure if you asked a local here in Dayton if there was traffic, they may nod their head fiercely. But, after living in a touristy city, I can safely say that no, traffic does not exist here. Unless there’s a big event, like an air show. Or a parade. Then all the surrounding roads shut down.
OK, so I haven’t yet experienced the winter here yet. However, Dayton gets all four seasons. The summer is hot, the fall is cool, the winter is cold, and the spring is warm. The summer puts those spray playgrounds to use, and the neighborhood pool is the meeting place for friends. The leaves change to splendid bright colors in the fall, and families enjoy the changing nature at surrounding farms as they get mindlessly lost in corn mazes and pick pumpkins to carve. The winter brings freezing temperatures, resulting in some snow and causing play dates to occur in the many indoor facilities. The spring buds new flowers and bike rides among the many bike trails, which lends itself to some fun family memories.
While there is Young’s Jersey Dairy Farm where you can eat homemade ice cream and Learning Tree Farm where you can pet farm animals and help water the garden, Dayton also is home to many great indoor facilities. Since the winter conditions aren’t like I’m used to in the South, I’ve already gotten a family military membership to Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (this is great for toddlers through adulthood). There’s an indoor jungle gym at Fairhaven, Run Around Fun Town, and Scene 75. If you’re confident in your skating skills, there are plenty of indoor skating rinks at different recreation centers surrounding Dayton.
The previous activities aren’t free, but libraries are! You can’t go wrong at any of the libraries in Dayton and the surrounding cities; there are story times and plenty of books to keep you from getting bored in the winter. And, since Dayton is proud to be the birthplace of aviation, the U.S. Air Force Museum (free!) is definitely worth going to over and over and over again. There is plenty of history to discover and numerous displays of planes. Just make sure to watch your toddler closely or he will find a way underneath the ropes so he can touch one of the famous planes.
Dayton, you surprised me. I admittedly was terrified to move here, but I was pleasantly taken aback by the rolling hills and the welcoming community. The best thing? I haven’t gotten bit by one mosquito yet.