Local Politics: Metro Parks continues its expansion

Michael Curtin

The Metro Parks system is coming full circle.

The district's plan to develop its 20th park within old limestone quarries along the Scioto River, just five miles north of Downtown, would astonish founders of the park system.

Created in 1945, the Columbus and Franklin County Metropolitan Park District was dedicated to acquire and preserve unspoiled natural areas, especially those along flood-prone waterways.

In 1948, the three-member parks board approved a resolution declaring that park development should be well outside city boundaries, allowing people to escape the city's grime and enjoy the trails and fresh air of pristine, forested areas.

In November 1951, imploring voters to approve a 0.2-mill levy,The Columbus Dispatch said, “Passage of the levy will enable the park board to purchase some of the few remaining untouched areas of wilderness left in the county and to develop these areas as metropolitan parks in natural scenic surroundings.”

The levy was soundly defeated, as were levy attempts in 1949 and 1957. Metro Parks won its first levy in 1960, and since then has won five of six attempts, most recently in 2009. That levy, at 0.75-mill, expires in 2019.

Over the decades, Metro Parks stayed close to its founding philosophy of developing parks in outlying, mostly forested areas along the edges of Franklin County and even in six surrounding counties.

The district's thinking began to change just before its 1999 levy campaign. Board members became sensitive to complaints that the district receives tax money from all Franklin County property owners, while no Metro Park was within the city of Columbus. No Metro Park was easily accessible to the less affluent and those without cars.

As part of its 1999 campaign, Metro Parks pledged to develop a park within the core city. The promise was fulfilled with creation of the 120-acre Scioto Audubon Park, on a former industrial brownfield on Whittier Peninsula just south of Downtown.

But Metro Parks is just beginning its philosophical shift. Executive Director Tim Moloney says today's vision is to have a Metro Park within five miles of every Franklin County resident.

That vision would be enhanced by a park carved from old quarry lands north of Trabue Road, between the Scioto River and Dublin Road. The park would feature a 25-foot waterfall, nature trails, picnic areas, quarry wall climbing and rappelling, canoeing, mountain biking and connection to regional bike trails. Development could begin as soon as 2018.

Metro Parks is collaborating with Wagenbrenner Development, which has an option to buy 607 acres, of which 260 would be for the park.

If brought to fruition, the new park would astonish not only Metro Parks' founders, but generations of quarry workers who used dynamite to extract limestone rock formed 350 million years before, and in the process created canyons on both sides of the Scioto.

Some long-time residents of the area, who recall the frequent rumblings from the blasts, just might live long enough to enjoy a stroll around a new park and marvel at reimagined landscapes.