Hiking Trails

Columbus Group shares vision to connect area parks and waterways

A group of kayakers descend the Scioto River towards the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus on July 3, 2020.

Have you ever thought about kayaking to get to work?

Or a hike from the suburbs to downtown for dinner and a history lesson on the central Ohio stops on the Underground Railroad?

Or ride a mountain bike on rugged local trails for top-notch rock climbs?

Franklin County could be the perfect place to do all of this and more as part of a vision unveiled Wednesday at the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

The new initiative, “Project Rapid 5,” offers improved links between the region’s greenways and waterways – including the Scioto and Olentangy rivers and the Alum Creek, Big Walnut and Big Darby stream corridors – which include over 200 miles of trails and thousands of acres, much of which is already state owned.

Natural development, if coordinated, would place parks or greenways, including bicycle and walking trails, within a mile and a half of all residents of Franklin County, said Keith Myers, vice -President of the Office of Planning, Architecture and Real Estate at the Ohio State University of Administration and Planning.

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Myers is president of Rapid 5, an effort of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the Urban Land Institute Columbus.

“The idea is a unified greenway system, regardless of the owner,” Myers said. “It’s a unique system across the county… It would be very, very easy if we could develop this system to connect to every community, to every neighborhood, to get them all within a mile or two of a big one. network of regional parks. “

The Rapid 5 project presented ideas for improving connections in Franklin County via the Big Darby, Scioto, Olentangy, Alum Creek, and Big Walnut river corridors.

William Murdock, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, added, “Often times we don’t think we have one of the greatest greenway opportunities in the country… Every corner of the community could be a part of this. system. It’s pretty exciting.

The study included surveys online and posted by the Neighborhood Design Center for initial feedback, which was provided to five local design firms to summarize them into broader ideas for using parks and waterways to connect. Franklin County communities.

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The final results, presented Wednesday at the Columbus Metropolitan Club and included in a 250-page book with additional details on different proposals, were curated by the five corridors of waterways that make up Franklin County:

• The Big Darby Creek area, with “the native landscape connects people to the original prairies of Ohio and the wood-lined streams of the Big and Little Darby watersheds.” The plan offers connections along 65 miles of trails, as well as bus, streetcar (and, potentially, passenger train) services, bike-sharing programs, seasonal hot air balloon rides, even a gondola.

One of the goals was to make the region a regional destination, like Napa Valley in California, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming or New York’s Finger Lakes, said Brian Bernstein, director and co. -Founder of Realm Collaborative, the design company. which focused on Big Darby.

“Come for the day, maybe you stay for a weekend. Do you go to the small villages that exist along the corridor, go to a tavern for lunch and then hike the trail? How do we create more mobility within it … “he said.” I think we’re just trying to reframe the thinking. How do we think differently about the ways of discovering these great places which are vast and vast? “

• The Scioto River Corridor, with connections from O’Shaughnessy Reservoir and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in the north to Lockbourne and the confluence of the river with Big Walnut Creek in the south. In between, the plan envisions a new hostel and event center, environmental learning facilities, an art park, a state-of-the-art rowing training center, and an ‘en living Water”.

Kim Way, director and director of urban design and planning at NBBJ, the Columbus architectural firm that focused on the Scioto, said a goal was to improve continuity in the hallway, via this that his firm called the Scioto Parkway.

“One of the things that dawned on us very early in the process was all the great assets that were already along the Scioto River…” he said. “What we wanted to do was celebrate this as a key theme, taking all of those existing assets and trying to use the river to connect them, but at the same time introducing new assets that would be an attraction for them. people to come and use the river. “

• The Olentangy river, with a spotlight on Confluence and other existing parks, a new “cultural gathering place” on Bethel Avenue and a waterfront neighborhood along Riverside Drive, with transit and other connections.

The proposals include an expansive circular pedestrian promenade at Confluence Park and a new 50-acre park that would be within a 20-minute walk of more than 18,000 residents.

Andrew Overbeck, director and planner at MKSK, a Columbus-based landscape architecture and town planning firm that focused on the Olentangy, said there were missed opportunities along the corridor to connect the neighborhoods on either side of the river.

“There are places where we need to invite people to the river and provide them with a little more to do than just going back and forth in a straight line,” he said. “… We need trails on both sides of the river. This is the only way for us to be able to connect to neighborhoods in the east and west and not just to serve those that are right next to the river.

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• Big Walnut Creek, with restored wetlands, kayak launches and focuses on existing villages and parks, including Friendship Park, the former site of the Big Walnut Country Club, one of the country’s first African-American country clubs.

The designers proposed several centers along the corridor that would include access points for kayaks, zip lines and rope courses, pedestrian bridges, and increased public gathering and recreation spaces.

Timothy Skinner, partner of The EDGE Group, the Columbus landscape architecture and planning firm that has focused on Big Walnut Creek, said much of the area is underdeveloped and difficult to access for residents.

“There’s this unspoiled natural beauty that’s right there,” Skinner said. “In many ways, the strategy for this corridor was just these simple connection points, these meaningful access points for communities to the stream, the trail systems. In many cases, it is a question of not intervening and preserving this natural environment.

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• Ruisseau d’Alum, which, in addition to natural features and connections, represents “one of the most racially diverse waterfront corridors in central Ohio,” with Underground Railroad stops and historic Hanford Village , a “self-sufficient and prosperous black neighborhood” badly affected by flooding in 1959 and the construction of Interstate 70.

Michael Bongiorno, vice president and senior design director at AECOM, the downtown engineering consulting firm that focused on Alum Creek, called the area a locally “hidden gem” that deserves more attention. .

“Part of our goal was to reveal the hidden assets that lie along Alum Creek, as well as an important and tortured history,” he said. “… It is the most racially diverse, the most socio-economically diverse and it ranks first on the Vulnerability Index. So we wanted to use this project as an opportunity to elevate the assets of the stream and align them with the needs of the community… ”

Murdock said the overall results represent a vision of how Franklin County could leverage existing green spaces and waterways in a way that addresses water quality, equity and the growth of in a way that ultimately benefits all parts of the community.

“What we’re talking about here is telling a story, connecting neighborhoods and driving growth,” he said. “It’s really different and it’s pretty exciting.

People enjoy kayaking together on Big Darby Creek in Grove City.

The groups behind the study plan to seek additional public comment. Myers said it was premature to attach a price tag or set a timeline for the bigger effort.

“I hope this catches the imaginations of a lot of people,” Myers said. “It won’t be a big project. But it will always be a series of projects related to this bigger idea. This will happen over time… Given the broad support from the community, I believe that much of this vision is within our grasp. I don’t think there’s anything in central Ohio that we can’t do if we want to do it bad enough, and it’s no different.

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