Secret Columbus: Hidden Parks and Natural Wonders

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Griggs Reservoir Park: a nature preserve and a small-yet-stunning waterfall.

They tower above Columbus. They're buried beneath it. They're unseen even though they're right under our noses. Columbus is full of hidden gems. Some are threatened by the ravages of time, but others are thriving spaces where in-the-know culture vultures, foodies and history buffs flock. How many of our 37 city secrets do you know-and how many will you discover for the first time?

Flowers By the River

The Olentangy Trail by nature encourages activity, providing 20 miles of smooth pavement. But there is one spot built for a break: Side by Side Park, not even a quarter of an acre in size, is tucked on the trail just south of West Third Avenue. Here, rest is rewarded with a colorful flower garden, park benches and a sculpture by Charlotte Lees of Solon depicting life in Victorian Village. It's title? "Side by Side." This beautiful park was once a grown-over lot. Now it's a gateway to the trail from Harrison West.

Hiding Behind the Honeysuckle

Orginally, this park on Route 161 was a farm run by one of Worthington's first families. In 1968, the land was donated to the city, which created the Moses Wright Nature Area on some of the land. Over time, though, invasive honeysuckle and garlic mustard choked out the native plants. In 2006, a group of volunteers stepped in. Now, the nature area is where people stroll to watch the sunrise. "It's just sort of a magical place," says Paula Deming, one of the original volunteers.

An Urban Waterfall

Near the west end of the Hayden Run Bridge is a parking area just large enough for a dozen or so cars. At the end of the lot are wooden steps that lead into a ravine and, at the bottom, a boardwalk, which runs alongside a small stream that merges with the Scioto River. Here you'll find Griggs Reservoir Park: a nature preserve and a small-yet-stunning waterfall. Marked simply with a sign stating, "Welcome to Griggs Nature Preserve," the falls are a favorite among local nature photographers and teens with plenty of time to spare during the summer months.

Secret Garden

In the early 1830s, German immigrant Adam Gantz moved near what is now Home Road in Grove City to settle his family and build his homestead. He farmed the land and, around 1840, erected a farmhouse that-thanks to preservation efforts in the 1980s-still stands today. Near the farmhouse (now part of Gantz Park), you'll find gardens which illustrate how gardening has evolved from necessity to hobby. "They provide a unique look at horticulture through time," says Kim Conrad, director of Grove City Parks and Recreation. The gardens include culinary, fragrance and medicinal plots, a meditative labyrinth and a children's garden, planted by local preschoolers.

Bigger Isn't Always Better

Most Columbus residents know Schiller Park. But those who don't call German Village home probably aren't familiar with Schiller's smaller, lesser-known sister, Frank Fetch Park. The 0.2-acre lot between Berger Alley and Beck Street was renamed in 1985 to honor Frank Fetch, founder of the German Village Society. In 1996, the German Village Garten Club transformed the park known for visitors who didn't clean up after their dogs into a destination reminiscent of parks in Germany. Adorned with antique gaslights, a fountain and a variety of plants including the official Frank Fetch hosta, the park is maintained by the Friends of Frank Fetch Park. "It really represents this village in that it's all volunteer," says Jerry Glick, who's known as the mayor of Frank Fetch Park. "It's truly a neighborhood project."

A Downtown Oasis

Maynard E. "Jack" Sensenbrenner didn't enter politics until his 50s. But the two-time Columbus mayor left a huge mark on the city (during his time in office, Columbus grew by 70 square miles) and made national headlines with his catchy buzzwords and always-on-the-go political hustle. In an ironic twist, the park honoring him is a shady spot more ideal for quiet reflection and weekday lunches than wheeling and dealing. Located across the street from the Nationwide Insurance headquarters Downtown, 1-acre Sensenbrenner Park is filled with flower beds, shade trees, picnic tables and a fountain.

Ancient Burial Grounds

In the early 19th century, Mound Street was named for a large burial mound at what is now the intersection of Mound and High streets. "The street actually went around it for decades, and then during a point of increased horse traffic and public use, they decided to straighten it out," says Brent Eberhard of the State Historic Preservation Office. Although many mounds have been destroyed, Eberhard says there are 71 known sites of earthworks or mounds in Franklin County. Most are small and on private property, but larger sites like Shrum Mound near Upper Arlington and Jeffers Mound in Worthington-burial mounds built by the Adena and Hopewell cultures, respectively-are accessible to the public.

A Guerilla Garden

In 1981, Italian Village was riddled with vacant lots. So a group of residents decided to do something about it. Dubbing themselves the Martha Walker Garden Club, named after one of the first land owners in Columbus, the club practiced "guerilla gardening." "They'd take their trees and plant them in street medians without the permission of the city," says Andy Klein, who was the club's first employee and is still a member. Today, the 33-year-old club maintains the Martha Walker Garden, a walkway between two houses on Mt. Pleasant Avenue. Says Klein, "We've kind of worked ourselves out of a job in Italian Village." 1098 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Italian Village