Columbus, Ohio has been my home for nearly 17 years and has changed considerably in that short amount of time. The city is currently the 15th largest in the country, though I’m sure that can fluctuate from time to time, and we are growing rapidly. With new buildings going up all over town, one of the largest Universities in the country, a vibrant arts scene, numerous Fortune 500 companies, and a rising star in the fashion world, it is easy to get carried away with city life. However, we have been blessed with enough forward-thinking power players who also see the value in green space and keeping an eye on the environment.
To that end, the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks were established in 1945. In the years following, the park system has grown to 19 parks covering approximately 27,000 acres with plans to add more parks and expand existing parks in the years to come.
I’ve been to 16.5 of the 19 so far. I add the .5 because I’ve only driven through Pickerington Ponds but haven’t spent time exploring on foot. I had Meli with me and being a State Nature Preserve, she was not allowed out of the car where we were. Somehow, I haven’t made it to Inniswood, though being on the other side of town and only a short half mile loop of four-legged friendly trail probably contributes. The farthest park, Clear Creek, is also a Nature Preserve. It is close to Hocking Hills though so I’m surprised on one of my trips down there we haven’t yet added a this to the list of stops.
Technically the Heritage Trail and Homestead Park are closest to us but we consider Prairie Oaks to be our “home” park. It is on the edge of the county, surrounded by lots of horse farms and pastures. Almost every trail is dog friendly and there is a horse trail too! There are plenty of options here which is a large part of the appeal. Trails wind around old quarry lakes and along the Big Darby State and National Scenic River. There are open prairies, as the name suggests, when you’re looking for open spaces and sunny skies. When you’re ready for some shade there are ample opportunities to wander down a trail under cover from Sycamore, Buckeye, Pawpaw (our State fruit), and Oak trees. If you don’t feel like checking out a trail, you can relax at one of the covered picnic areas, take your dog to the dog beach for a swim, cast a line for some fishing, or head out on the water in a canoe. The Sycamore Trail is our favorite. It is usually the least populated and it is dog friendly. It’s Meli’s favorite trail because there is a spot where we pop on her long leash and play fetch in the river for a while.
Battelle Darby is just a little bit farther away and is where we like to go for a change of pace. About half of the trails are dog friendly, though most lack shade so we don’t go there much in the heat of summer. The cool feature at Battelle Darby is the herd of bison! They have three large pastures to rotate through depending on the season and you can get fairly close to them most of the time. When you tire of watching the herd, there are sand volleyball courts, playgrounds for the kids, and plenty of picnic pavilions. The lesser known feature is tucked away at the northernmost end of the park. An old horse barn and race track that were part of the original Darby Dan Farms. The story behind the track and its creator, John Galbreath is worth Googling. If you’re a baseball fan, you might recognize him as the former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Only one of our metro parks currently offers camping. The newest addition to the park system, Scioto Grove. Nothing fancy or strenuous about this park. Instead you’ll find an easy going, relaxing park with 5 tent sites you can backpack into for free and by reservation. There are canoe access points at the northern and southern ends if you want to float down the Scioto River, and every trail is pet friendly.
Highbanks on the northern end of town is by far the most popular park, but our favorite is to the southeast, Walnut Woods. There isn’t as much variety of activities but the trails are pet friendly and offer a variety of shade and sun. The Sweetgum Trail is awesome any time of year thanks to the mix of tall pines and sweetgum trees. Gorgeous fall colors, wonderful summer shade, and when the snow falls it is a winter wonderland. The added bonus for this park is the enormous dog park complete with mini agility course and a separate swimming hole for the big dogs to enjoy during the summer. Since it is one of Meli’s favorite places, we spent her first birthday here.
The beauty of Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks is that they each offer something a little unique. A wonderfully wide variety of terrain, activities, and amenities. Last year was a bit of a traveling drought for me so I endeavored to travel more locally to quench my thirst for something new. Our parks did not disappoint and I still have more to explore!
For more information about Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, please visit their website: http://www.metroparks.net/
If you would like to read about my visit to historic Slate Run Living Historical Farm, please visit my earlier post: https://goo.gl/jtPGhe
***Previously posted by my friends at Campstake. Please check out their wonderfully compiled field guide and do a bit of shopping while you’re there. 🙂
****Exciting park update since originally drafting this post back in May! The Metro Parks are going to add another, bigger, badder park to the list and I can’t wait! https://keepitontheqt.com/home