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GET 'MOO-VING' THIS SPRING

Parents are always looking for places to go that offer inexpensive, fun activities that the whole family can enjoy. Springdale Farm, located in Spencerport, just west of Rochester, is one of those places. It's a popular spot where visitors can enjoy family-oriented activities in a farm setting. Best of all -- admission is free!

This 200-acre working demonstration farm is operated by Heritage Christian Services, a non-profit agency founded in 1980, which supports individuals with developmental disabilities. The farm employs about two dozen of the agency's day program participants to work in various jobs, including caring for the animals, maintaining the grounds and giving tours to groups.

The farm, a typical 1800s farm, was originally purchased by James Adams in 1876 and owned by his family for almost 100 years. It was primarily a fruit farm until the 1930s, when James' son, Myron, converted it to a dairy farm. It was sold to another farmer in 1960 and later sold to Monroe County.

Springdale Farm is part of Northampton Park, a 973-acre county park that includes a downhill ski slope with a tow rope, model airplane field, hiking trails, picnic pavilions, playgrounds and the Ogden Historical Society's Pulver House.

Heritage Christian Services, which stresses education and community involvement for adults with disabilities, began operating the farm in 1993. The more than 40,000 people who visit the farm each year not only learn about farm life, they also have the opportunity to see people with disabilities engaged in meaningful community work.

The center point of the farm, which recently underwent a $2 million expansion, is the 13,000-square-foot dairy barn that houses 60 cows.

Last June, Springdale Farm opened the Riedman robotic milking center, the first public-demonstration milking parlor in the northeastern United States to feature the Lily Robotic Milking System. The operation is managed by nearby Colby Homestead Dairy Farm. This cutting-edge working dairy showcases the future of dairy farming. Milk produced here is sold to Upstate Farms, so the milk on your cereal this morning might have come from here.

There are two observation levels in the barn to see the cows, along with a viewing area in the attached milk house. The high-tech milking system uses laser technology and a software program that keeps track of each cow's history via the collars they wear. In addition, the system is self-cleaning and has an automatic feeder for the cattle.

The operation is set up so that cows can be milked whenever they want, even if the farmer is not there. Tours of the milking center are available Monday through Friday.

Springdale Farm recently opened a 9,500-square-foot visitor's education center that houses interactive exhibits with an agricultural theme, a gift shop, restrooms, concessions and conference space.

Other attractions at the farm include a variety of barnyard animals, including horses, cows, pigs, goats and ducks. The duck pond located on the grounds is a very picturesque place to sit and relax. Visitors can also enjoy 2.5 miles of nature trails.

A horticulturalist has been added to the staff to develop a variety of themed gardens, including an ancient times garden, flower garden, vegetable garden and even a pizza garden that features pizza herbs and spices.

The farm offers one-hour guided group tours for school, scout and youth groups. Tours, which are held at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, cost $5 person and must be scheduled in advance. In addition, children's birthday parties, which include a farm tour, hands-on time with the animals, cake and ice cream, can be scheduled for noon on Saturdays. Cost is $12 a child with a minimum of 15 children. The farm can also be rented for corporate events, picnics and receptions.

The farm holds many special events and festivals. Admission may be charged during some of these events.

The first festival of 2005 will be the Sheep Shearing Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. (Admission is $3 adults, $2 children ages 3-11.) Watch as Springdale's sheep have their winter coats sheared off. Your own little lambs can get their locks sheared, too, as Continental School of Beauty will be offering free haircuts for kids.

There will also be a variety of hands-on children's activities, carriage rides, a petting zoo and spinning, weaving and dying demonstrations. Dairy Days, which takes place each Saturday in June, focuses on different dairy-related themes each week.

Directions

(from downtown Buffalo)

Take the I-90 to Exit 47;

Take Route 490 east to Exit 1 (Leroy/Brockport);

Continue north on Route 19 about 10 miles to Colby Street and turn right;

Springdale Farm is three miles down on the left side.

Mapping it out

Springdale Farm, 696 Colby St., Spencerport, (585) 352-5320; www.springdalefarm.org

The farm is open year-round, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

ALSO IN SPENCERPORT
There are also a few other family-oriented attractions in the Spencerport area.

When hunger strikes, grab the kids and climb aboard Choo Choo's Express, a casual grill and ice cream parlor that features a dinosaur train ride.

The 15 minute, quarter-mile ride through a wooded setting takes you past 25 realistic life-size dinosaurs. Choo Choos also has a large plastic playground and has special events held throughout the year.

A full menu includes nine kid-size meals. One of the eatery's specialties is Cincinnati-style chili, which is chili served over spaghetti, topped with onions and cheese.

Choo Choos Express is located at 5138 West Ridge Road (Route 104), Spencerport, (585) 352-4422; www.choochoosfun.com.

Open year-round, with shorter hours in winter. It's about seven miles from Springdale Farm.

The Erie Canal runs through downtown Spencerport. There are several retail shops and restaurants located near the canal.

A picturesque gazebo is located on the banks of the canal; it's a perfect spot to watch boat traffic and the lift bridge in operation. It is also the site of a Sunday evening summer concert series from June through August.