Bison on the move at Battelle Darby Creek; photo by Tina Copeland.
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Welcoming Spring With The Columbus Metro Parks

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BY KAYLEE DUFF

The Metro Parks are an amazing place to get out, get active and enjoy nature after spending the winter inside. Here’s a Q&A with the Metro Parks about what you can do there this spring.

By far, one of the best parts about spring and warm weather is going back out in nature. After spending the winter cooped up indoors, fighting off sickness and the cold, stepping out into the sun is more than just a breath of fresh air — it’s good for your mental, physical and emotional health!

Central Ohio is home to some of the state’s most beautiful parks. The Columbus and Franklin Park Metro Parks span 7 counties, 19 parks, 2,000 species of plants and animals, and 27,000 acres of land. The Metro Parks were founded over 70 years ago, and have been offering a natural escape from everyday life since 1948.

True Q’s editor talked with Peg Hanley, the Public Information Office over at the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, about what makes the parks in central Ohio so special:

Kaylee: Tell me about the Metro Parks. What’s your mission statement and vision?
Peg: The Metro Parks are a governmental agency that was formed with a stewardship conservation mission to protect habitat and wildlife, and to make available places and spaces for people to get out, get active and enjoy nature. We’re the largest of these metropolitan park districts in Ohio. There’s a bunch of them. Every county has the opportunity to form a park district, like the Cleveland Metro Parks and Toledo Metro Parks. What’s important is that we are completely free and open to the public every day. Columbus Business First named us 2018’s #1 Busiest Central Ohio Attraction and Entertainment Venue. Last year, we had close to 10 million visitors to our parks.

The Metro Parks have more than 230 miles of trails; photo by John Cagnina.

What types of attractions are available to the public at the Metro Parks?
You can come here and do pretty much whatever you can imagine, and all of the programs and activities are free. People can do anything from watching birds and sitting quietly on a park bench to climbing one of the largest outdoor climbing walls in the United States. We operate Slate Run Living Historical Farm, a working 1880s farm in Canal Winchester, which is incredibly cool. You can go and see the people in costumes, the farmers pulling the tractors, the farm ladies cooking. This is especially great for young students learning about Ohio history for the first time.

We have over 200 miles of trails. We’ve got an overnight backpacking trail, that is open every other weekend. This is perfect for those who don’t do a lot of heavy backpacking, don’t want to spend a lot of money, or just want to see what it’s like on a weekend before heading somewhere more difficult. We’ve got a cool archery range at Scioto Grove in Grove City. That has both the standard targets, and if you walk around, there’s a 3D archery course with 12 foam animal targets, like deer, turkey and even a dinosaur. Scioto Grove also has a drone field, where you can go out and fly (or race!) your drone.

If you’ve got horses, you can bring those. Four or five parks have horseback riding at bridal pastures and trails, so if you’ve got horses, you can bring them. There are also an abundance of locations for great fishing, kayaking and canoeing (you just have to supply your own equipment).

We have three or four nature centers, if you’re interested in learning about Ohio history or geology. If you’re not mobile, all the nature centers have these wonderful windows where you can see the birds or ground animals come through. If you run into one of the naturalists and you have a question, they’re available in the nature centers or around the trails. They have a wealth of information.

There is a golf course, the Blacklick Woods Golf Course in Reynoldsburg, which you have to pay for; it’s a beautiful place where the birds and birdies co-exist. We have three free disc golf courses, at Blendon Woods, Scioto Grove and Glacier Ridge. We have two obstacle courses — at Glacier Ridge and Scioto Audobon — where you can go to get a workout. Every park has a pet trail, and some parks have specific dog parks or dog beaches. You can set up a hammock or have a picnic. Several of our locations, trails, picnic tables and so on are ADA accessible, and we can offer assistance if needed during programs or at events.

Speaking of programs and events, what programs or events do the Metro Parks have?
We do tons of day-long special events and lots of programs. We offer about 5000 programs a year, for everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens. You can go online and see the full list of our programs and events. Our programs range from naturalists hosting stargazing programs to full-moon dog hikes. One whole division only does programs for seniors, called Metro Five-O, which is for anyone 50 and older, ranging from those who want to do active hiking to us actually going out to senior centers. Then come September, we host senior day camps. We also have a lot of preschool programs. We aim to teach kids about the importance of nature and wildlife; we host everything from Toddlers in Nature to Preschool Story Time to Wormology. We offer day camps in the summers. In fact, some of the camps are even still enrolling kids for this summer!

What kinds of animals would we see while walking around the Metro Parks?
We’ve got little animals from a tippecanoe darter — a type of very tiny fish — all the way up to a herd of bison we re-introduced about ten years ago at Battelle Darby Creek. Those prairie areas are where the bison lived back in the 1800s. The Metro Parks also have a range of animals we provide a safe haven habitat for. We have several state and federally endangered species; there’s several fish and mussels in the Darby Creek as well as some rare and endangered orchids in Clear Creek. There’s anywhere from 80 to 100 turkeys wandering around Blendon Woods at any given time. We have bat caves and condos, and a bunch of bats live in those things. Everything we have — animals and plants — are all native to the area.

Birdwatchers at Blendon Woods Metro Park; photo by Gil Sears.

It’s not a secret that spring is a popular time for parks everywhere, but what’s special about the Metro Parks during this time of year?
April is a really amazing time in our parks. Birdwatching is a really big thing, and April is a great birding month here. A lot of the birds are coming back, especially the warblers. They are either passing through on their way north, or they’re setting up nests. Wildflowers are blooming along the trails. If you’re at Three Creeks, there’s the Bluebell Trail, and those bluebells are just beautiful. They start blooming in late April, early May. Baby lambs will be born in April at Slate Run, the working 1880s farm. You can see those lambs, and also the piglets or some of the thousand pound Persian horses in the barn. Inniswood Metro Gardens is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the state. People go there whether or not they like plants. Area psychiatrists and psychologists recommend people who are stressed out to go and take a walk through the gardens, especially after being cooped up all winter long.

What else can the public do to get involved with the Metro Parks?
The best opportunity is volunteering. Those opportunities range from helping with programs, to helping pick prairie seeds, to doing some trail walking and seeing if there’s debris on the trails, to helping plant plants at the botanical gardens, to checking bluebird boxes. We have chances for junior volunteers (ages 11 and up), and even an opportunity to volunteer on the living historical farm. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, it’s a great opportunity. You can check out all our volunteering information on our website, where you can also sign up for our email newsletter.

To learn more about what the Metro Parks in central Ohio have to offer, visit metroparks.net.

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