A Monthly Guide to Day Trips Through Ohio and Beyond
If we’re looking for silver linings, especially during this long ongoing global pandemic, the Columbus Metro Parks system is perhaps the brightest, brightest “cloud” to be found in the city.
From the labyrinthine paths and towering ridges of the Highbanks to the vast grasslands and wetlands of Darby Creek, the parks offer something for everyone; an escape to the outdoors that has become a panacea for sheltering in place and congregating indoors. I would have lost my mind to cabin fever if it weren’t for the Metro Parks. Using visitor numbers alone, last summer and fall were the most successful seasons in Columbus Metro Parks’ 49-year history, according to Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks spokesperson Homa Moheimani. .
Best of all, the system just celebrated the opening of its 20th park at Quarry Trails, located on a unique hybrid of public and private lands directly west of the Scioto River.
As I walked through the park with Moheimani, my first impression was somewhat marred by the setting sun on a weekday afternoon in January. On the one hand, without many trees or flowering vegetation, Quarry Trails looks like a giant mud puddle – and an actual working quarry. In the distance, on half of the 600-acre crater set aside for the park, the Shelly Company is still harvesting limestone from the site. In the early 20th century, this area of Marble Cliff was the largest contiguous quarry in the United States, providing stone for the completion of Leveque Tower, the Ohio Statehouse, and Ohio Stadium.
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When I visited, the landscape had the quality of a barren planet. A striking feature were the meticulously designed gardens of huge boulders and jagged rocks that created the borders and lined the paths of Quarry Trails, rocks undoubtedly native to the area. A demanding MTB course plunges into the depths, with tight turns, tunnels and a steep slope. There was a family walking down a gravel road that is not yet open; where they were heading, I wasn’t sure.
“What we’re looking at right now is a lot of future development,” Moheimani said, noticing my lack of enthusiasm. “There will eventually be an amphitheater for the events. There is a rock climbing area, a giant toboggan hill, and a trail with unpaved wooded trails that connect the two sections of the park.
Indeed, while there was little scenery on the north side of the park, Moheimani laid out a timeline of potential infrastructure that residents will soon see in the months and years to come. This certainly became clear when we traveled to the southern section of Quarry Trails, aptly known as the “lake” area. There, the majestic Millikin Falls take center stage. Once a hidden gem, the 25-foot falls now feature a new viewing platform, which leads visitors to a series of waterways and a floating boardwalk, where there will soon be kayak launches and stocked fishing ponds. Imagining what the park will become once the weather warms up and the picnic areas and playgrounds are inhabited leads to boundless optimism.
Geographically, Quarry Trails is sandwiched between Upper Arlington, Hilliard, and Dublin, but it’s technically still within the Columbus Society boundary. This allowed planners to give free rein to design and amenities without risking encroachment on neighboring townships. It also gives the Metro Park system a distinction it hasn’t had until now.
“Now that we have a Metro Park on this side of the Scioto River, it allows for a Metro Park experience within five miles of every Franklin County resident,” Moheimani said.
Directly east of the “lake” section of Quarry Trails is another somewhat controversial feature. There, a $650 million development is underway that will include townhouses, condos, apartments, retail, restaurants and a community pool. While it might seem counter-intuitive to build in a place with so many natural wonders – I always posit our Metro Parks as a way to get away from it all – it was the addition of this private investment that made it possible such an amazing place to walk around the city.
“Hopefully we can turn the tide,” Moheimani said of mixed-use development. “It’s a public park that happens to have accommodations. It’s unique. Our other parks have specific hours, but with this development here, who knows, it could be a 24-hour park. You can practically live inside a Metro Park. Not too many places in the country have that.
Quarry Trails is open from 6:00 a.m. until dark. For more information on Quarry Trails and other Columbus metro parks, visit metroparks.net.