The secret history, hidden treasures and quirky traditions of five popular Central Ohio parks

The secret history, hidden treasures and quirky traditions of five popular Central Ohio parks

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

Escape the crowds

The Dyer Mill trail is probably the only hiking path at the 7,000-acre park in southwest Franklin County where you may not see another soul. Named for a 19th-century grist mill, the 3.2-mile loop meanders through mostly flat terrain with a few sharp hills along the scenic Little Darby Creek. And if you're quiet and bring binoculars, you might spot a diverse range of wildlife: turkeys, meadowlarks, red-headed woodpeckers and white-tailed deer.

Don't miss the bison

While it's no secret that bison roam areas of the park, they can be hard to spot. Metro Parks' Peg Hanley recommends parking at the nature center (1415 Darby Creek Drive) and walking the Darby Creek Greenway, which runs alongside the summer pasture where 10 bison feed and roam. An unmarked grassy knoll just off the trail on the south side of the pasture and a marked spot on the northwest provide the best viewing areas. Hanley says the bison tend to be most active in the morning and evening.

Franklin Park

Learn to juggle

If you head to the Adventure Center in the middle of the Near East Side park on Thursday evenings, you'll see 10 to 15 people juggling balls and rings, spinning tops and riding unicycles. Jest Jugglers has met for more than 30 years in various city parks, says the group's "Commander in Chief" Owen Smith. The jugglers perform inside the Adventure Center at 5:30 p.m. on cold nights and outside until dark on warm nights. If you stop to watch, don't be surprised if you go from spectator to participant. These jugglers love to teach others their craft.

Schiller Park

Look for the mysterious red jacket

In 1996, local artist Joan Wobst created the "Umbrella Girl" statue for a fountain on the west side of the German Village park to replace a statue that went missing years earlier. The girl, who looks like she's walking home from nearby Stewart Elementary, isn't dressed for winter weather. So every December, under the cover of night, a mystery tailor adorns the girl with a bright red jacket. "Red jacket day is a sure sign that Christmas can't be far away," says Friends of Schiller Park's Katharine Moore.

Goodale Park

Walk where bears and presidents once trod

In 1861, the Victorian Village park was converted to Camp Jackson, where the Union Army stationed and trained up to 8,000 troops at a time, including future presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. Later, in 1874, Goodale was briefly home to a small menagerie that included two bears (Fannie and Jack), two wolves, 19 rabbits and three foxes.

Whetstone Park

Celebrate the second-best mom in the world

In the New Dawn rose bed underneath an arbor, you'll find the strangest memorial in the Clintonville park-one that honors "Kathy Watkins 2nd best mom in the world." Though it might seem like a dig on first blush, the dedication actually was a thoughtful birthday present from Molly Litfin and her two sisters to their mom, who's still very much alive. When the three sisters were young, their mother would read them a bizarre children's book called "The Second-Best Children in the World." The book became a running joke in the family, so when Litfin and her siblings decided on the Whetstone dedication for Watkins, they knew what the inscription had to be. The dedication has confused people from the start. A Park of Roses Foundation volunteer called Litfin back to double-check the wording. "She said, 'That's really what you want on there?'" remembers Litfin, who sometimes catches park-goers staring at the inscription, utterly perplexed.