Weekend Wanderlust: Meet Quarry Trails, Columbus’ newest Metro Park
A monthly guide to day trips across Ohio and beyond
If we search for silver linings, especially through this long, ongoing global pandemic, the Columbus Metro Parks system is perhaps the brightest, shiniest “cloud” one could find in the city.
Whether it’s the labyrinthine trails and towering ridges of Highbanks or the expansive prairies and wetlands at Darby Creek, the parks offer something for everyone; an escape to the out of doors that has become a panacea to sheltering in place and congregant indoor gatherings. I would have lost my mind to cabin fever if it weren’t for the Metro Parks. Using the sole metric of visitorship, this past summer and fall were the most successful seasons in the Columbus Metro Parks’ 77-year history, according to Homa Moheimani, spokesperson for the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.
Even better is that the system just celebrated the opening of its 20th park in Quarry Trails, located on a unique hybrid of public and private land directly west of the Scioto River.
As I walked the park with Moheimani, my first impression was somewhat tainted by the waning sun on a brisk January weekday afternoon. For one, without many trees or much blooming vegetation, Quarry Trails resembles a giant mud puddle — and a literal working quarry. In the distance, on half of the 600-acre crater reserved for the park, the Shelly Company is still harvesting limestone from the site. In the early 20th Century, this area of Marble Cliff was the largest contiguous quarry in the United States, providing stone for the completion of Leveque Tower, the Ohio Statehouse and Ohio Stadium.
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On my visit, the landscape had the quality of a barren planet. One striking feature were the meticulously designed gardens of huge boulders and jagged rocks that created the borders and lined the paths of Quarry Trails, rocks no doubt native to the region. A challenging mountain bike course plunges in the depths, with tight curves, tunnels and a steep grade. There was a family hiking a gravel road that’s not yet open; where they were headed, I was unsure.
“What we are currently looking at is a lot of future development,” said Moheimani, noticing my lack of enthusiasm. “There will eventually be an amphitheater for events. There’s a rock-climbing area, a giant sledding hill and a path with wooded, unpaved trails that connects the two sections of the park.”
Indeed, while there was little in the way of scenery on the north side of the park, Moheimani laid out a timeline of the potential infrastructure residents will soon see in the months and years to come. That certainly became clear when we drove to the south section of Quarry Trails, known fittingly as the “lake” area. There, the majestic Millikin Falls takes center stage. Once a hidden gem, the 25-foot falls are now featured with a fresh observation deck, which leads visitors down to a series of waterways and a floating boardwalk, where there will soon be kayak launches and stocked fishing ponds. Envisioning what the park will become once the weather warms and the picnic areas and playgrounds become inhabited leads to boundless optimism.
Geographically, Quarry Trails is sandwiched between Upper Arlington, Hilliard and Dublin, but it’s technically still within the Columbus corporation limits. This allowed planners free rein in design and amenities without the risk of encroaching on the nearby townships. It also gives the Metro Park system a distinction it hasn’t had up to this point.
“Now that we have a Metro Park on this side of the Scioto River, it makes it possible for there to be a Metro Park experience within five miles of every Franklin County resident,” Moheimani said.
Directly to the east of the “lake” section of Quarry Trails is another, somewhat controversial feature. There, a $650 million development is in the works that will include townhomes, condos, apartments, retail, restaurants and a community pool. While it may seem counterintuitive to build in a place with this much natural wonder – I always posit our Metro Parks as a way to get away from it all – it’s the addition of this private investment that made such an incredible place to wander possible within the city.
“I hope that we can reverse the thinking,” said Moheimani, regarding the mixed-used development. “This is a public park that happens to have some housing. That’s unique. Our other parks have specific hours, but with this development here, who knows, this could be a 24-hour park. You can live practically inside a Metro Park. There aren’t too many places in the country that have this.”
Quarry Trails is open from 6 a.m. to dark. For more information on Quarry Trails and other Columbus Metro Parks visit metroparks.net.