The Metro Parks board of directors voted on June 9 to allow off-trail access throughout the county system - to let visitors to roam freely through woods, creeks and other spaces not blazed by established pathways.

The Metro Parks board of directors voted on June 9 to allow off-trail access throughout the county system - to let visitors to roam freely through woods, creeks and other spaces not blazed by established pathways.

Previously, people could be warned or even cited for heading off the beaten path. The new policy goes into effect Aug. 1.

"It's a trend we've been following for a while," executive director John O'Meara said. "This creates more opportunities to enjoy the vast areas we have."

Changes in park protocol are rarely groundbreaking, but I'd call this a landmark decision. It's an extremely good one, too.

Though I'm among its biggest fans, our county park system has always struggled in the high-adventure department. While others in the state have turned to mountain-bike trails, whitewater parks, tall toboggan runs and backpacking loops, those in Franklin County are still heavy on quiet walks and educational offerings.

Nothing wrong with those, of course, but this development appeals to those in search of more excitement. Like the new outdoor climbing wall at Scioto Audubon, off-trail access opens up a new world - the relatively untouched territory that calls to us who yearn for fresh, free air.

"People ought to enjoy the habitat," O'Meara said. "This gives people more freedom, more flexibility in how they enjoy their parks."

Some areas will remain off-limits for ecological or safety reasons. If there's an eagle nest or a steep cliff, park staff will ensure people only enjoy from afar. The rest of the system's 25,000 acres is now open for exploration.

Will the decision flood the forests with eager explorers? Probably not. Trails make things easy, and most will stick to what they know.

If you don't, heed the advice of Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility." Off-trail areas are often home to fragile plants and wildlife. They're beautiful because we let them be.

So tread lightly. Observe all other park rules, which remain intact whether or not you're on a path. Above all, enjoy yourself.

"We recognize that there's a generation or a second generation of kids that don't play outside," O'Meara explained. "We think it's important to get people back out there."

Looking to blaze your own trail? Click to the Ohio Adventure Map at ColumbusAlive.com/venture.