Hilliard: Hot times in the city
As the summer sun shines down on Central Ohio, the Hilliard community soaks up the rays in the city’s new $4.5 million Family Aquatic Center.
The center—which opened in 2008 and won an award from the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals for its design—has become “the gem of the city,” says Hilliard Recreation and Parks director Steve Mazer. Its shine is reflected in the millions of gallons of water that pump through the 560-foot lazy river as members splash around the interactive pool and twist through two 30-foot slides.
The first waves of summer start June 12, when the aquatic center holds its annual Splash Into Summer event with entertainment by the band Crescent Fresh, food vendors, games and a showing of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
The most telling part of the day isn’t the movie screening or hot dog stands, however—it’s the canned goods the center asks visitors to bring for the Hilliard Food Pantry, and the Duckie Derby, where pool members purchase rubber ducks and race them to raise money for Patches of Light, a local advocacy organization.
Combining philanthropy with a day of fun is indicative of the general atmosphere of Hilliard, Mazer says. “It’s an extremely supportive community,” he says. “Very charitable, very giving. It really is a conscientious community.”
The president of Hilliard’s Chamber of Commerce, Libby Gierach, agrees friendliness is synonymous with the suburb, which includes nearly 25,000 residents. “You could be walking down Main Street and people will say hi, especially if they don’t know you. That’s the charm of Hilliard.”
Examples of groups lending a helping hand to their neighbors abound, such as the Hilliard Optimist Club. This nonprofit, all-volunteer organization sets up a variety of services for youths—from teaching teens how to shoot foul shots to encouraging scholarship through academic competitions. The club’s main goal is to provide a positive outlook for the city’s youngsters and instill the benefits of seeing the glass half full.
Community support spans from personal development to business capital. The Chamber of Commerce keeps its members current through myriad education seminars. Recent sessions have included how to create a personal web page on LinkedIn and effective ways to use a BlackBerry for business.
Keeping residents safe and ensuring that security personnel have up-to-date infrastructure also is a focus of the community. Last year, the city unveiled a sprawling Joint Safety Services Building that puts the Norwich Township Fire Department, Hilliard Police Department, Clerk of Courts and Mayor’s Court all under one roof. The building is located off Avery Road, adjacent to the Franklin County Fairgrounds near the Old Hilliard downtown area.
“That really is an A-1 facility that has been very important,” Mazer says. “It’s a way for them to better service the entire community.”
Fun and fitness
In addition to the aquatic center, the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department offers a wide variety of programs for all its citizens, from the tiniest tykes to the city’s seniors. And the community is taking note: “The registration for our programs is exceeding last year, which is very, very promising,” Mazer says.
Sports leagues for all ages abound. Among the most popular is the Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association’s league that plays at the 30-acre Hilliard Soccer Complex on Scioto Darby Road. Other athletic offerings include lacrosse, softball, baseball, NFL youth flag football, swimming and diving, basketball, football, cheerleading and girls’ field hockey.
Classes also are available through the recreation department. Adults will find everything from karate lessons to computer sessions, and children can get in on the act with programs such as “Kids in the Kitchen” and “Investigate the World of Water!”
The department maintains 22 parks throughout the area. The largest is Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, which includes eight softball fields, three lakes and a walking path about a mile long. It also has an exclusive center for a vital section of the community—senior citizens. “We have an extremely active senior population,” Mazer says. More than 1,300 members are registered with the parks’ Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center. Memberships cost $15 per year and are available to anyone age 55 or older.
Mazer says it’s “one of the better senior centers in Central Ohio,” regularly attracting membership registration from seniors outside Hilliard. “With all the activities that we offer, we seem to be a little more active than the surrounding communities,” he says. Those activities range from the playful—Wii bowling tournaments, dancing classes and special outings—to the pertinent—defensive driving classes through AARP, transportation to grocery stores twice a month and mammography screenings and other health checks.
The Hilliard Ray Patch Family YMCA constructed in 2004 is a big draw for fitness buffs. The 50,000-square-foot facility on Cosgray Road features two basketball courts, an eight-lane lap pool, an aerobic studio, a cycling studio, strength and cardiovascular equipment, a climbing wall, a whirlpool tub and several saunas.
Those opting for a more natural setting can hit the pavement at Heritage Rail Trail, a seven-mile running and bicycling path that connects Hilliard to Plain City. The trail starts downtown in Old Hilliard and includes a trek through Homestead Park, operated by Washington Township. It features kids’ playgrounds, basketball and sand volleyball courts and a three-quarter-mile trail.
Check it out
Residents who prefer to exercise their mental muscles are in luck. “We really view ourselves as a vital community resource,” says Grace Kendall, manager of the Hilliard branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library System.
Despite a 22 percent cut in the Hilliard library’s hours of operation last September, the circulation rate is 1.8 million per year. “We’re the busiest location in the library system,” Kendall says, which she attributes to the lifestyle of the northwestern suburb. “The Hilliard community is a family-oriented community. Families can heavily use and benefit from the resources we have here. . . . People are aware of how important the libraries are for children and for themselves.”
The library hosts a wealth of community events, such as the annual Halloween Ball for kids under 5, who come decked out in costumes and traverse the library for tricks and treats. There’s also a popular storytime program, Kendall says. Ten times a week, parents and their little bookworms pile into the building on Cemetery Road and listen to tales of pirates and princesses. Last year, more than 14,191 community members attended the storytimes.
The library is excited to turn the page to its future. After some reorganization of its 20,000-square-foot space, Kendall says, the library will open a Homework Help Center by the 2010-’11 school year. The center will house computers, school supplies and textbooks from the local school district’s classrooms, and the library will provide staff members and a large core of volunteers to help students with their homework. “We can’t help but think that this will be a success here,” Kendall says. “Our focus really is the children.”
Another focus is working to pass a levy this fall to reestablish operating hours. The Ohio library systems were hard hit by budget cuts as a result of the recession, just as more people than ever are coming in to use the computers, résumé books and job-interview classes, Kendall says. A successful levy would allow the library to stay open later on weekdays and Saturdays and open its doors once again on Sundays.
The bustling suburb has special events that keep calendars filled throughout the year. Hilliard’s largest annual event is the Franklin County Fair, held on the fairgrounds near Old Hilliard. The eight-day event runs July 17 through 24 in 2010. An admissions ticket (which will range from $5 to $6) will garner access to midway rides, fair food and a gaggle of livestock shown by 4-H members from across Franklin County. Special events at this year’s fair include live music and dance performances, a clown circus, motocross championships, hot-air balloon launches, the Ohio Fighting Championship, a truck and tractor pull and a demolition derby.
Earlier in the month, the parks department throws an immensely popular Fourth of July celebration, Mazer says. Carnival rides, a parade, games and live entertainment take place in Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park every Independence Day. Fireworks cap off the celebration.
Other family-friendly events from the parks department include the annual Tidd Family Fishing Derby, Aug. 6 and 7; a Fall Festival, scheduled for Oct. 17, and Trick or Treat 2010, set for Oct. 28.
The Hilliard Chamber of Commerce holds an annual Hilliard Hollyfest Arts & Crafts Show to raise funds for high school scholarships. “It’s the largest local scholarship in the Hilliard school system,” Gierach says, adding that around $21,000 typically is raised. “It’s a lot of fun for the community with a great purpose.” Last year’s festival featured nearly 118 juried crafters and nearly 4,500 people in attendance. This year’s Hollyfest is slated for Dec. 4 at Hilliard Davidson High School.
A visit to Hilliard doesn’t have to involve a special event—there are plenty of attractions open year-round. Peruse more than 150 historical television sets and broadcast equipment dating from 1928 through the 1950s at the Early Television Museum. Or satisfy your sweet tooth with a tour of the Anthony-Thomas Candy Company and see where 25,000 pounds of chocolates are produced each shift.
History lovers will enjoy Northwest Village in Weaver Park. Walk through a bevy of buildings that demonstrate what life was like for Hilliard’s pioneer residents in the 1800s and early 1900s. The Northwest Franklin County Historical Society maintains the village, which includes a vintage log cabin and a one-room schoolhouse. All are welcome aboard a 1920s-era red caboose from the original 1899 Hilliard Train Station; beside the car, the station holds a ticket-printing press and telegraph key.
Gierach says there are plenty of shopping and dining destinations throughout the area. The Mall at Tuttle Crossing just north of the suburb has nearly 150 shopping and dining options. Mill Run, located east of I-270 and south of Cemetery Road, is a popular mixed-use development with shops, several hotels and a Movie Tavern, where box office hits are played on the big screen while viewers are served food and libations.
Local eateries are a highlight of Hilliard. Downtown, Otie’s Old Hilliard Inn & Pub is a favorite among locals, known for its charm just as much as its bologna. New to the downtown landscape is the Old Bag of Nails Pub, with family pub food and an extensive beer selection. Starliner Diner is a local favorite, with kitschy décor and a diverse menu, and you can find authentic flavors at Olive Tree Mediterranean Café, whose specialties include spicy gyros and kebabs.
Recent street and infrastructure changes, including several important roundabout additions, have improved access in Hilliard and paved the way for new developments on the horizon, Gierach says.
On Sept. 11, the parks department will unveil its newest addition, the First Responders Park Memorial, at the corner of Main and Center streets in the heart of Old Hilliard. The park will memorialize the victims of the 9/11 attacks and will include pieces of a steel beam from one of the World Trade Center towers. A granite wall paying tribute to first responders across the country is being installed, and a reflecting pool will echo the solemnity of the memorial.
In addition to honoring the country’s armed forces and security teams, Mazer says, the park will help stimulate business in Old Hilliard.
The Hilliard Community Foundation also is working to bring new life to downtown. The group is initiating a capital campaign to raise funds for a $6 million Hilliard Arts & Community Building, to be located across from the Joint Safety Services Building. It will be “more than just a black box theater,” says foundation vice president Chuck Buck. There would be rooms for small group art classes, rental facilities for weddings and conventions and a 200-seat theater.
With the new building, the Hilliard Arts Council hopes to expand its art class offerings and create a children’s theater program and chorus. “We’ll finally have a space where adults and children can perform in a building that’s not a school auditorium,” Buck says.
The building also would provide office space for several local organizations, including the Franklin County Agricultural Society, Hilliard Arts Council, Hilliard Convention and Visitors Bureau and Northwest Franklin County Historical Society. “We’re hoping to have it open within the next three years,” Buck says.
The council is looking for community input, he adds. Visit hilliardartscouncil.org to make a donation for the building fund or for more information. “A multipurpose building like this would benefit the entire Hilliard community,” says Buck, “and ultimately Franklin County.”
Jackie Mantey is an assistant editor for Columbus Monthly.