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The Buffalo News
February 18, 2007

Going indoors for some cool winter fun

By Christine A. Smyczynski

While outdoor winter activities can be fun, sometimes it’s also fun to enjoy indoor activities. There are plenty of indoor pastimes to keep you and your family busy until the first robin of spring appears.


Bring in outdoors indoors

The one thing about winter that makes it so bleak is that there are no leaves on the trees, no flowering shrubs, flowers or green grass. A visit to one of the following places will brighten your spirits, as well as warm you up.

The Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse, on the Niagara Parkway just south of the tourist area in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is one of the best deals in the falls. It has free admission and at this time of year, parking is even free! The conservatory was originally built in 1945; the visitor’s center with its 40 foot glass dome was added in 1980.


No matter how cold it is outside, you’ll be slipping off your coat inside the conservatory. The calendar may say February, but the inside of the greenhouse the yellow, blue and pink flowers say Spring! From February until April, Schizanthus, a plant unique to exhibition growing is prevalent. Floral exhibits are changed eight times a year. We visited during December, when the showhouse was decked out for the holidays with hundreds of poinsettias.


My four-year old referred to one wing of the conservatory as the “jungle room,” since it has a collection of palms, cactus, and other warm-weather plants. The kids also got a kick out of looking for turtles in the small pond under the dome in the visitor’s center.


Since nothing says summertime like butterflies, head to the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, a few miles north of the falls, when it’s really cold outside. Once inside, you’ll swear it’s the middle of July. The 11,000 square foot conservatory, the largest of its type in North America, has hundreds of tropical butterflies. A 600 foot path winds through lush foliage. If you wear colorful clothing, for example, red or pink, butterflies may land on you.


Another nearby butterfly conservatory is the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at the Strong Museum in Rochester. The butterfly garden, which opened last summer, is part of a new addition to the Strong Museum. It features 800 butterflies in a rain-forest environment. We visited it shortly after it opened and found it much smaller than the Niagara Falls conservatory, yet the perfect size if young children are in tow.


While in the Rochester area, you may also want to visit the Lamberton Conservatory, located in Highland Park. The circa 1911 conservatory has a collection of tropical as well as seasonal plants. There is a tropical forest display under the main dome, which includes an observation deck. Other growing area displays include exotic and desert plants, along with banana and coffee trees. Seasonal floral displays are changed five times a year.


If you’re in Rochester February 9-26, stop by the George Eastman House for Dutch Connection, the 13th annual George Eastman Conservatory Winter Bloom. The conservatory will be filled with more than 2,000 tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and more.

Have a ball with paint–indoors

Running around inside shooting paint at each other is not something you’d want the kids doing in your living room. However, given the proper equipment and the right facility to play in, paintball can be a fun, challenging and yes, safe, way for kids, age ten and up, to run around and burn off some excess energy.


This sport is especially popular with teen boys. Participants use air guns, which are loaded with paintballs. The object of the game is to shoot members of the opposing team with paint, rendering them “out,” while you try to avoid getting spattered with paint yourself. The playing field generally has makeshift buildings and other obstacles. Players wear goggles and protective clothing since the paintballs are shot at a high speed.


The sport is often played outdoors in the warmer months at specially designed paintball fields or sometimes just out in the woods. However, there are a couple indoor facilities, which allow for year-round, as well as nighttime, play.

GRC Paintball in Angelica is the largest indoor/outdoor paintball facility in New York State. Owner Glen Cole actually developed this facility because his son, Rob, was a paintball enthusiast when he was younger. Glen wasn’t impressed with some of the facilities his son played at, so he decided that they would build their own.


When I was in Angelica this past summer, Glen gave me a tour of the facility and had some local teens put on an exhibition game for me. He explained that participants are required to wear protective equipment and headgear and that the guns must be set at a certain level of pressure, so it isn’t painful when you are hit with the paintball.


 It will set you back about $30 to rent the equipment, pay the entry fee and get 500 paintballs. Glen has a big heater in the corner of the indoor facility, so you won’t have to wear bulky winter coats when playing.


The only other indoor paintball facility in the area is N’Vasion Paintball in Rochester, which has been in operation for two years. They are one of the largest paintball supply retailers on the eastern seaboard. Their 15,000 sq foot state-of-the art paintball field features Turf XL padded turf, making it easier on player’s bodies when they dive to the ground.


There is a glass-enclosed, multi-level viewing area, so mom and dad can watch the action on the field. Rental equipment is available; however, all players are required to purchase paintballs at the facility. It will cost players about $30 to rent the equipment and buy 500 paintballs.

Discover some of our area’s museums

Winter is the perfect time to discover some of the region’s larger museums, since once the weather turns warmer, everyone tends to forget about visiting these regional treasures. You can easily spend the entire day, or longer in some cases, at these museums, as they have lots of activities for the entire family.

The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning has one of the largest collections of glass objects in the world. In addition, the museum has all sorts of hands-on activities and offers a number of glass making workshops. The current special exhibit, Worlds Within, the Evolution of the Paperweight runs through Mar. 18. Special kid-friendly activities are planned during winter break, Feb. 17-25.


Looking for someplace to spend the entire day? Head to the Strong National Museum of Play in downtown Rochester. Since their multi-mullion dollar expansion this past summer, the museum has much to offer, and not just for little kids. My two oldest boys, who are teenagers, enjoy it just as much as my younger two kids. Since it is an entire museum dedicated to play, most of the exhibits are hands-on and very interactive. Secrets of Circles, a new exhibit that celebrates the circle, opens Feb. 17 and runs through May.


Also in Rochester, the Rochester Museum and Science Center has a lot of hands-on kid friendly activities. When we visited last spring my kids had a lot of fun; they could have easily spent all day the Adventure Zone, which had lots of hands-on and physical activities. They also enjoyed the exhibit that featured K’nex building toys. A new exhibit, Moneyville, where visitors can explore the history, science, math and economics of money, opened on February 2. Special activities are planned for the winter break, February 19-23.


Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse (905-371-0254; 7145 Niagara Parkway. Open daily 9-5 (later in December). Free admission. Free parking in Jan. & Feb. Parking fee, charged weekends March-mid-May and daily mid-May-December, $3 per ½ hour, max. $12.


Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory (905-371-0254;, 2565 Niagara Parkway. Open daily 9-5. Admission $11/ adults, $6.50 children 6-12.


Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at Strong National Museum of Play (585-263-2700; 1 Manhattan Square, Rochester. Open Mon.-Th. 10-5, Friday 10-6, Sat. 10-5, Sun. 12-5. Admission, which is by timed ticket only, is $3 per person. The last entry is 20 minutes before closing.


Lamberton Conservatory, (585-753-7270). Located in Highland Park, 450 Highland Ave., Rochester. Open 10-4 daily. Admission $2/adult, $1/youth, under 5 free.


George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film (585-271-3361; 900 East Ave., Rochester. Open Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 1-5.


GRC Paintball (585-466-3050) Open Friday 7-11 p.m. and Saturday 12-6 p.m. They are also available for private parties and tournaments. Rental equipment available.


N’Vasion Paintball (585-473-7529; 1046 University Ave., Rochester. Retail store is open Mon.-Th. 11-6, Fri. 11-8, Sat. 12-8 and Sun. 10-5. Playing field is open Friday-Sat. 5-11 p.m. and Sun. 12-5.


Corning Museum of Glass (607-937-5371; I-86, exit 46, Corning. Open 9-5.


Rochester Museum and Science Center (585-271-4320; 657 East Ave., Rochester.