Family Fun For Everyone: Local attractions to enjoy during summer months

Amanda Morrison / NNY LIVING
Holes near a man-made waterfall at River Golf Adventures.

BY: Doug Buchanan
Children nationwide may be jumping for joy at the advent of summer break, but parents well understand how quickly the excitement at the prospect of endless sunny days with no homework can turn into inactivity and this common refrain from the kids: “But I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!”

For the parent who’s willing to take a little time to check out the offerings in the region, however, there is plenty to do. And in the modern world of smartphones, texting and social media, parents who get tired of seeing their children lounging motionlessly on the couch while staring slack-jawed at a cell phone will be happy to find that there are plenty of ways to get their kids up and about and unplugged.


RIVER GOLF ADVENTURES, CLAYTON

Whether you’re in the 1000 Islands region – or willing to travel there for the day – or in any of the communities in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence or Franklin counties, there is no shortage of venues to keep kids – and parents, for that matter – entertained all summer long.

One trend in the world of family-friendly summer fun that seems to be gaining in popularity is a variety of activities at one facility. A great example of this is River Golf Adventures on Route 12 in Clayton. Proprietor Jill Bach has been growing the business, and continuing to add attractions, the entire seven years of its existence. In fact, the name may be a bit misleading – because there’s a lot more to do at this family fun center than just play miniature golf.

 “This year we’re adding bumper boats,” Bach said. “They have water blasters on them, so you have to bump around the fountains and the water blaster.”

Bumper boats are just the beginning at River Golf Adventures. There is a pirate ship treasure dig, where kids can find real coins that they get to take home with them. There is also a gem sluice. Using real screening equipment, kids get to pan for amethyst, emeralds, crystal, fool’s gold, fossils, arrowheads, shark teeth, and more. Children will learn about geology in a fun way and they will get to take their finds home as souvenirs.

Bach said the pirate ship treasure dig and the sluice are very popular for birthday parties, which River Golf Adventures is happy to host. The fun center also has a snack bar for tasty ice cream treats, drinks and even nachos to keep you going during a fun-filled day.

Of course, the miniature golf course is second-to-none.

 “We have a lot of people that come and say it’s the best mini golf they’ve been to,” said Bach, who added that one of the unique features of the course is that the golf balls float. So if you hit into the water, no problem. Just scoop the ball out and keep playing through.

The facility also boasts a state-of-the-art raised driving range for the more serious golfers in the family.

So far, said Bach, the season has been great. For more information on River Golf Adventures, including hours and pricing, go to rivergolfadventures.com.

ALEX BAY 500 GO-KARTS

For an adventure of a different sort, why not try your hand at some go-karting? A 15-minute drive north from Clayton gets you to Alexandria Bay, where Alex Bay 500 Go-Karts is located. Owned and operated by Stephen Croll, the facility boasts a one-mile track – the longest go-kart track in the state.

 “It’s probably one of the top ten longest tracks in the country,” said Croll, who opened the business after moving from Ontario in 1992.

 “We started with a farmer’s field,” Croll recalled. “Back in ’92 we had just the one track, then we built the building. We added on in ’96 when we added an arcade. And we also have miniature golf, which we’ve had since 2006.”

While children have to be 10 years old and at least 54 inches tall to take solo runs on the track, younger (or smaller) kids can still experience the exhilaration of zipping around the curves and blasting down the straightaways by riding along with an adult on the two-seat go-karts that are on hand.

Anyone who’s spent any time in the north country knows the weather can be a bit temperamental, to say the least. So if rain clouds start to form over the track, that’s the time to hit the arcade, where kids – and adults, too – play for tickets that can be redeemed for prizes. Then, when the weather clears, guests can get back out on the track.

And if anybody gets a little hungry, that’s covered, too: There is a Subway restaurant on the premises, offering healthy and tasty dining choices.

Croll is a big fan of “unplugging” in favor of real, human interaction.

“We’re kind of a dying breed,” he said. “This (experience) is a real thing, non-virtual. Tangible. We offer something where the family can come and interact with each other and have fun.”

Alex Bay 500 G-Karts offers combined price packages for mini-golf and go-karting. The center will be open 10 a.m. until around 10 p.m. daily during summer break, so there’s plenty of time to take part in the fun. And why not let the kids develop their steering skills a bit … after all, it won’t be long before they’re asking to borrow the car on Friday night! For more information on pricing and combined packages, go to www.alexbay500.com.

BLACK LAKE MINI GOLF

For an experience near one of the many lakes in the region, consider Black Lake Mini Golf, where owner Sandy Wells has been providing family-friendly fun for three decades. In addition to the miniature golf course, the facility boasts a ‘Water Wars’ area, where participants are encouraged to “douse your spouse” or “blast your buddy” by launching water balloons from opposite ends of an enclosed outdoor space.

Black Lake Mini Golf also rents out boats to take onto the lake in the summertime.

Wells said business has been good so far this summer, but that everything depends on the weather. She added that her busiest time is when the kids get out of school for the summer. The facility also has a snack bar and ice cream shop.

For a hands-on educational experience that’s fun for the kids, consider taking a trip to Potsdam in St. Lawrence County to the North Country Children’s Museum.

 “The museum is for kids 12 and under and their families,” explained Director Sharon Williams. “It’s about learning together and having fun together.”

Located behind Market Street in downtown Potsdam, the museum’s permanent exhibits include a water feature that replicates aspects of the Raquette River. Kids learn about hydroelectric power by building a dam that powers a turbine to light up a wall. Visitors can also harness wind to direct a miniature sailboat.

 “All of the permanent exhibits are interactive and fun,” said Williams. “Kids always want to come back. Everything is hands-on. It’s completely interactive.”

Williams said the museum, which until recently had no permanent home, has exceed her expectations; she came up with the original idea 14 years ago. Since that time, more than $1 million has been raised to turn her vision into a reality.

In addition to regular hours of operation, the museum is operating four weeklong summer day camps for kids, focusing on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). In addition, weekend workshops focusing on science and the arts are taking place throughout the year.

The museum certainly has enough to offer to make the modest annual fee for membership well worth the expense. Of course, there are also day rates for museum admission. For more information, go to northcountrychildrensmuseum.org.

The above is just a small sampling of what is available for kids and families throughout the region. In addition, there are nature hikes to waterfalls to explore, 4-H and other summer camps, summer sports leagues, the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths, Cornell Cooperative Extension workshops for kids, and the Thompson Park Zoo in Watertown, just to name a few.

So the next time your kids tell you they’re bored, look around a little – the next fun adventure may be closer than you think.