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Big-time fun at a small cost

By Jody Mace
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/01/13/15/wva43.Em.138.jpeg|212
    Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Leo Davelka, 5, makes a "salt angel" at Sunday's Motoi Yamamoto salt sculpture dismantling ceremony at the Mint Museum uptown. DIEDRA LAIRD - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/01/13/15/MQYbo.Em.138.jpeg|476
    Gary O'Brien - THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
    UNCC Botanical Gardens director Dr. Larry Mellichamp photographs Bella, UNCC's titan arum in its viewing area in the rain forest area of the McMillan Greenhouse on campus. Also known as the corpse flower, the huge plant emits a stench similar to that of rotting flesh, attracting flies which pollinate the plant. This is the first of its kind to bloom in the Carolinas. Mellichamp said the plant was purchased and planted four years ago. GARY O'BRIEN - gobrien@charlotteobserver.com

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy Charlotte’s diverse offerings. Enjoy art, music and nature, as well as innovative activities for kids.

ImaginOn, 300 E. 7th St. This award-winning joint venture between Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library shows what collaboration can accomplish. Through theater productions, drama classes and story times, ImaginOn nurtures children’s imagination and helps develop their literacy. The colorful building is also packed with free things to do for kids of every age, from a stage where young children dress in costume for their own impromptu performances to a studio where teens create movies and animation. Details: 704-416-4600; www.imaginon.org.

Greenways. It’s easy to get out in nature. Just consult a map of the Mecklenburg County Greenway System, which encompasses 37 miles of developed and 150 miles of undeveloped trails running along creeks. The developed trails are great for bikes and scooters, while the undeveloped trails are best explored on foot. www.charmeck.org.

Mint Museum of Art, 500 S. Tryon St., and Mint Museum Randolph, 2730 Randolph Road. All of Charlotte’s museums, from The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture, to The Levine Museum of the New South, are affordable. But if you’re looking for free, visit either of the Mint Museums on Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Also, about once a month on the free night, one of the Mint Museums holds a free event that explores an exhibit through other kinds of art, like poetry, music, dance or even food. 704-337-2000; www.mintmuseum.org.

Gallery crawls. These are held regularly in two areas in Charlotte. The Historic South End has a gallery crawl the first Friday of every month. Many South End art galleries schedule opening receptions to coincide with the crawls, and food trucks are usually on site as well. NoDa, the area around 36th and North Davidson streets, hosts crawls on the first and third Fridays of every month. In the case of NoDa, most of the art is found in restaurants, music venues and shops, as well as on the sidewalks, rather than in standalone galleries. Live music abounds during NoDa’s crawls. Details: www.historicsouthend.com; www.noda.org.

UNCC Botanical Gardens, 9201 University City Blvd. Explore both native and exotic plants at the McMillan Greenhouse and the two gardens, Van Landingham Glen and Susie Harwood Garden. The Gardens delight with more than just plants, though – there are also walking paths, bridges, and a pond with waterfalls. Make sure to stop at the greenhouse to visit the carnivorous plants. Details: 704-687-0720; http://gardens.uncc.edu.

The Green, 425 S. Tryon St. This small uptown park is popular with both office workers and families. Directly across from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, it’s an oasis but it’s also quirky. Giant fish statues spray water into a fountain, street signs point to the Charlottes in places like Michigan and Iowa, and children sculpted of bricks climb a brick wall. The Charlotte Shakespeare Festival stages free plays here in the summer.

U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway. Charlotte hosts plenty of big-name musical acts in stunning venues like Knight Theater and Belk Theater, but you can also see musical artists performing original music in locations you might not expect, like this one. The only charge for the popular May-to-September outdoor concert series is $5 for parking. Yes, the other activities are a bit pricey, but even if you can’t splurge on rafting or zip-lines every time, watching other rafters battle the rapids can be great entertainment, especially when they fall out. 704-391-3900; www.usnwc.org.

Jody Mace runs CharlotteontheCheap.com and is a member of the Charlotte News Alliance, a network of hyperlocal websites.
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