After passing the inconspicuous driveway a few times and circling back, I pull my Prius onto a signless and rocky asphalt throughway. The tree-lined drive opens up into a large gravel lot with parked industrial equipment and stacks of tires large enough to host a dinner party in.
Sleeping giants, all.
My guide, Steve Bollinger, pulls up in a four-wheel drive vehicle that looks like it would be right at home taking jumps in lunar canyons. Where we’re going, my little fuel-efficient hybrid would be sorely outgunned by the landscape.
Once in the ATV, Bollinger takes me on a tour of the 200-acre complex of nature-reclaimed mineland.
We whip down rocky rutted trails that have been partially swept away by heavy summer rains.
Dense forest opens up into meadows.
Birds and bugs fly up into the air in front of us, startled by our noise as we swing around corners. They’re not used to being disturbed here.
We cross a stream on foot, Bollinger building a path in front of him by rolling heavy rocks into the gentle current; and we emerge in front of a 22-foot waterfall.
This place is a playground for the off-trail adventurer.
I toggle back and forth between awe and disbelief.
I haven’t even explored half the area—and I already can’t wait to come back.
Good thing for me—and us—it’s only 10 minutes from downtown.
The Quarry Trail, or QT, is slated to become the next Columbus Metro Park to open in central Ohio, and central it is—its distance from the center of downtown is bikeable.
Breaking the mold of every Columbus metro park to precede it, The QT would be a primitive playground for kayaking and other water recreation, camping, backpacking, sheer cliff face climbing, and many more wilderness activities. And all this close enough to home that you can have a full day communing with nature, and be back in time for dinner.
Wagenbrenner Development is working with Columbus Metro Parks to acquire and develop this former mine, and transform it into a mixed use property focused on a wild experience close to home.
This proposed land use is changing the game in more ways than one. Portions of the Property were once used as a landfill and will need to be cleared of trees and other vegetation in order to install a proper cover on the waste that was placed there. The firm looks to maintain existing vegetation, especially along the Scioto River and within the Park.
Wagenbrenner has successfully re-developed other industrial and commercial brownfield properties, including landfills. They saw tremendous potential in the area, and turned to Columbus Metroparks to partner together, and steward this land into an evolutionary trajectory that includes the people of the capital city in recreational, residential, and commercial aspects
Uh, yes—potential. If the QT is being praised for its potential, you should get a look at what already resides within its borders.
A cliff face looks out over pristine water. It’s spring-fed; there are swans, egrets and turtles dotting the water’s edge and the rocks that descend into the azure mirror. A primitive campsite with a stone firepit sits overlooking the lake. I could imagine a whole weekend here, a little time outta Dodge. S’mores and swimming and campfire songs are circling in my head when Bollinger asks if I want to get a look at the property in its entirety.
Heading back to the ATV, we pass fresh animal tracks, and washed-out gullies that huge boulders have fallen into. Most of these spots haven’t seen a human in quite some time. We pull up to a ledge overlooking another lake. At the edge of the precipice, the scale of the wild area we have been tooling around on becomes apparent. Peering across the water, I realize we are hundreds of feet above the lake’s surface, at the top of a vertical rock wall. Stretched out in front of me are hundreds of acres of woods, lakes, and a few identifiable trails. In the hazy distance, trucks amble slowly down ledge roads cut into bedrock. From our perch, it looks like a child’s sandbox, earthmovers and back hoes sitting kitty corner to dumptrucks. It’s the last dying section of a mining operation that will soon leave 650 acres of midwestern paradise open for nature to reclaim, and the people of Columbus to explore.
While Bollinger was kind enough to be our on-the-ground guide, (614) turned to Tim Moloney, executive director of Columbus Metroparks, to get some background on what this venture could mean for the future of recreation in downtown Cbus.
What is the QT now, and what do you imagine it will be?
In the simplest of terms, this project will become our 20th Metro Park and serve the residents of Franklin County, much like our other parks. Hiking, wildlife viewing, picnicking, fitness, immersive in nature. In addition to that, the quarry will offer some new options not available at other parks like mountain biking, rock climbing, paddling activities, river access, and some spectacular views of this extreme environment.
How big is the projected park?
The property is over 650 acres, but we are looking at an initial phase of 150-200 acres of park development. As the project moves forward, the park could grow over time.
What needs to happen for this image to become a reality?
The first step, which we are engaged in now, is acquisition. In this phase we not only need to come up with the right pricing and terms, but we also have an immense due diligence project looking at what it will take to get this site ready to be a park. Beyond the acquisition, we then will need to work with our public and begin to come up with designs and construction documentation making this a park.
What is the timeline before this is open for public use?
Hopefully we will close on the property by the end of the year and then begin the design phase. Once design is finished, I would expect our construction timeline to take several years to have the park fully opened to the public. We are looking at options of getting a select area of the park opened much earlier than that.
With private development happening here alongside public, who will have access to this area?
While the private development component is something new to Metro Parks, I do not see access changing for anyone. Each and every one of our parks are open 365 days a year and open to everyone, and this one will be no different. We will just have a neighborhood inside of a park. Even though there are no residences inside of Scioto Audubon, that park has commercial access within its borders as well.
Where will funding come from?
We have been very fortunate to have the support of the great people of Franklin County supporting our levies for projects like this for many years. In addition to this funding we have already received support from the State Capital Budget and from the Clean Ohio Fund. These two funding sources will be a major contributor to the total acquisition costs.
What is your vision for the future of Metro parks in central Ohio?
Over 10 million visitors come to our parks every year, a number which is growing. The latest studies show our continued population growth focused in the central core of Franklin County. I think we need to develop our new parks close to where the people are. Our 2016 Strategic Plan clearly told us that our customers love our parks, but their frequency of use dramatically goes up with the parks closer to their homes. This project is within 5 miles of over 350,000 people.
How will the QT be different than other parks in Columbus?
I think the beginning product we are starting with, quarry land, is very unique. Visitors will be able to get down and into areas that were mined out for limestone. There will be cliffs and high walls for exploration. We will have over 3 miles of riverfront trails for bikes, hiking, and paddling. There is a 22 foot waterfall that is very unique to Central Ohio. We will have natural rock climbing areas and mountain biking inside the County. Wildlife viewing is nothing short of excellent, frequently seen are: deer, beaver, osprey, abundant waterfowl, coyotes, fox, and even frequent eagle sightings.
Is your philosophy as director different from your predecessors?
I’m sure there are days people could think this, but I believe I am just carrying on the traditions the previous 4 Directors have set. From Walter Tucker building a zoo at Blacklick Woods all the way to John O’Meara building the largest outdoor climbing wall at Scioto Audubon, my predecessors have always been at the cutting edge in making our Metro Parks the most relevant park district in the country. I just have a different approach and way about doing business, but at the end of the day, we all were focused on getting the people of Franklin County outside and engaged in an amazing natural resource.
411 on QT:
At 650 total available acres, Columbus’ newest metropark will be a genre-busting change to the mowed fields, dog parks, and paved bike paths that we’re used to. Here are some fast facts to wrap your brain around the eventual size of our next addition:
Approximate number of Ohio Stadiums that could fit inside its boundaries
Number of QTs it would take to match the 2,000 acre Hocking Hills State Park region
Number of acres covered by New York’s Central Park. 650 down, 192 to go.
Acres of land covered by Columbus Metroparks, not including the QT
Overall increase in metroparks area after addition of completed QT
Miles from downtown