Each year, more than six million visits are recorded in Central Ohio's 15 Metro Parks, which protect 24,000 acres from Powell to Lancaster. Inside them, you'll find thriving wetlands, verdant prairies, deep woods and other secluded places where park employees host more than 3,000 nature programs annually.

Each year, more than six million visits are recorded in Central Ohio's 15 Metro Parks, which protect 24,000 acres from Powell to Lancaster. Inside them, you'll find thriving wetlands, verdant prairies, deep woods and other secluded places where park employees host more than 3,000 nature programs annually.

Entrance to parks is free. So are the activities.

Remember that on Tuesday, May 5, when Franklin County voters will be asked to support Issue 1, a property-tax levy that would provide more than half of the Metro Parks' operating budget for the next 10 years. The 0.75-mill property tax on the ballot would replace a current 10-year, 0.65-mill measure set to expire in December.

Issue 1 is the only countywide issue on the upcoming ballot.

Looking at statewide data, supporting the Metro Parks is a good deal. The park system asks for a tax rate that's far lower than what others charge and spends about $556 per acre, about $1,000 less than the state average.

Executive director John O'Meara, who spoke about the levy during a recent Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon, said that the Metro Parks kept promises stated before the previous levy and plans to do the same during the coming decade.

Since 1999, the staff has improved financial accountability and added numerous amenities in key areas of the region. Local outdoor folks have seen five additional parks, 8,000 more protected acres and 80 miles of new trails.

Central Ohio is expected to grow by 500,000 people in the next 25 years, so responsible stewardship of natural resources will be crucial to the region's success, O'Meara explained. Passing Issue 1 will enable the largest locally owned park system in Ohio to keep pace.

"This is a gift we have received," said Greg Lashutka, former Columbus mayor and a member of the Metro Parks board. "Great cities set aside special places to be enjoyed for generations."

Wait, there's an election coming up?

Yes. The Metro Parks levy is the only countywide issue on the May 5 ballot. You can cast a mail-in absentee ballot by contacting the Franklin County Board of Elections - or vote absentee in-person at the board's East Broad Street headquarters through Monday, May 4.

What will it cost me?

A "mill levy" raises money by taxing property value. Issue 1 would cost about $23 per $100,000 of home value. Renters aren't directly affected, though increases in property tax can lead to higher rent.

Didn't the Metro Parks just ask for a levy?

No. Voters approved a 10-year, 0.65-mill Metro Parks levy in 1999. Issue 1 will replace - not add to - the old levy, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

What's in store for the park system during the next decade?

In addition to maintaining current parks and programs, three new areas - Scioto South, Little Walnut and Rocky Fork - will be constructed in Central Ohio. The park system also promises to establish at least 50 miles of new trails, build a nature center in the Big Darby Creek watershed and restore wetlands and other wildlife habitats.

By the numbers

6,000,000 visits to the Metro Parks each year

24,000 total acres protected by the park system

3,000 free nature programs offered each year

2,300 species of plants and animals in the parks

130 miles of biking, hiking and multiuse trails

15 parks in seven counties

For more outdoor news and adventures, click to The Riot Act blog at ColumbusAlive.com