The Buckeye Area at Walnut Woods Metro Park is now officially open, but even before Saturday's ribbon-cutting, local residents were waiting at the gates.
Walnut Woods Metro Park is being developed as the first of three new parks added to the system under the 2009 passage of a 10-year Franklin County levy. According to Metro Parks spokeswoman Peg Hanley, the $5.4-million investment is a combination of levy and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Plans are to restore 70 acres of wetlands, 83 acres of forest and 7,000 feet of the Big Run stream within the park.
When completed, Walnut Woods Metro Park will cover a total of 1,032 acres.
"Even before officially announcing we were opening the new Buckeye Area at the park, residents showed up, standing at the gates, so it's really great to know these people are so excited about this park," Hanley said. "We want to thank the voters for making this happen."
Located at 6716 Lithopolis Road, the Buckeye Area will add another two-mile trail to the existing two miles of trails in the Tall Pines Area, which opened first in 2010. Another four miles of trails are expected to be added by 2014 in the central part of the woods and wetlands.
"Bikers, hikers and joggers can enjoy the two-mile figure-eight Buckeye Trail that winds through several stands of trees, including maple, ash, serviceberry and crabapple, as well as buckeyes, while passing along Walnut Creek," Hanley said. "Kayakers and canoes can be portaged in and put in on the river for a gentle float downstream. We hope to add an actual boat launch at some point."
Other amenities include a four-acre off-leash dog park with separate areas for large and small dogs, along with a drinking fountain and a shallow swimming area for dogs weighing 20 pounds or more.
The children's play area features a climbing net, small boulders, a merry-go-round, tire swings and logs for crawling into. A picnic area with tables, grills and a shelter can accommodate up to 50 people.
"We had an advisory group of stakeholders and area residents to go through the planning process and make sure we weren't duplicating efforts of the great local and county parks already in the area," Metro Parks Planning Manager Steve Studenmund said. "This has been a big step forward for us and we're excited about this and happy the community seems just as excited about it."
Long-range plans for the park include connecting the trail system with Groveport's Heritage Park and the Groveport Recreation Center.
"Walnut Woods, along with our other 16 Metro Parks, plays a critical role in conserving precious natural resources that are essential for wildlife and vital to the health of our communities here in central Ohio," Metro Parks Executive Director John O'Meara said.
According to Hanley, the work at Walnut Woods has already produced results to that effect, including the return of sandhill cranes to the area and a booming population of about 120 other bird species, aquatic animals and various mammals.