Scioto Grove, the newest Metro Park, is the first to offer overnight camping.
Metro Parks Director Tim Moloney was playing tour guide for a delegation from REI, the trendsetting co-op for outdoor gear. A number of them had just flown in from REI's corporate headquarters in Kent, Washington, for a preview of the newest Metro Park, the 620-acre Scioto Grove, aptly named since it borders the Scioto River in Grove City. And why not? REI had, after all, kicked in $20,000 to help build the park's most unique feature-the 1.2-mile REI River Trail, part of about six miles of interconnected trails designed for backpackers, complete with five permanent camping pads, making it the first and only of the 19 Metro Parks to allow overnight camping.
Moloney and his guests pause by one of the camping pads, which has, not surprisingly, an REI tent erected on it for effect. "This is something different in our DNA-allowing camping, much less within a few miles of Downtown Columbus. The trail is clearly marked-you can see the next flag ahead from anywhere. Nobody's going to get lost out here. We'll have rangers on-site for 16 hours every day. You can come here, get a taste, and if you like it, maybe then you venture out to Zaleski [State Forest] and do a three-nighter, a four-nighter."
The out-of-state visitors were duly impressed. "It's a game-changer," said Rachel Ligtenberg, REI's vice president of retail. "It's a backpacking appetizer for kids growing up in an urban setting, who wouldn't normally get to try their hand at backpacking."
"We have to stop fearing the outdoors, fearing that we might get Zika or Lyme disease or some such thing. You know what you won't get from a life dedicated to enjoying the outdoors? Heart disease-the leading killer in the United States," Moloney said, as the REI representatives nodded in agreement. "We didn't pass another campground on the drive across Columbus from REI [the group had visited the Columbus REI store at Easton before their Scioto Grove tour.] But we did pass a number of hospitals on the way here, filled with people suffering from heart disease. People are dying from something that maybe could have been avoided with a little more engagement with the outdoors."
The park opened to the public on May 6, about two months after the REI delegation's visit. The park system had been buying parcels for the park for about six years, using Clean Ohio funds, revenue generated by the Metro Parks property tax levy and a 193-acre property donation from the city of Grove City.
Backpacking is free, by reservation only, and the five campsites are available every other weekend through October 1. Fire rings and firewood are provided for each site. Scioto Grove also includes picnic areas for day visitors, as well as two canoe/kayak launch sites for anyone interested in the quick 3-mile paddle from the park's northern put-in to the park's southern river access. Dogs on leashes are welcome. The park, accessible from Jackson Pike, also features a sledding hill for winter recreationalists.