Whittier Peninsula in downtown Columbus

Whittier Peninsula in downtown Columbus

In recent years, the Whittier Peninsula in downtown Columbus has undergone a facelift from a rundown section of the city to a continually evolving green space.

This week will mark the official dedication of the park and nature center located there. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will open the new Grange Insurance Audubon Center and Scioto Audubon Metro Park at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28, at 505 W. Whittier St.

A former industrial area, the peninsula was the site of abandoned factories, railroads and an unregulated dump, among other things. The 72-acre parcel is now home to an 18,000-square-foot nature center, docks, bike trails and other park-related amenities.

"It's sort of had a haggard past and now we are transforming it," said Peg Hanley, a spokeswoman for Metro Parks. "Suddenly, it's now a thriving eco-center that will be changing seasonally."

The $14.5-million project came about through a partnership of the city, Columbus Metro Parks and Columbus Audubon. Metro Parks spent $11-million to clean the site.

The park is the first in the downtown Columbus area, Hanley said.

Among the changes that have occurred since the project broke ground in 2003 has been the addition of wetlands.

"What happened was the site built up over time because of the all the material that got placed on the site and the landfill," said Heather Starck, executive director of the Audubon Center.

Hanley said Metro Parks worked to return the area to its natural state.

"We don't go in and decide to create something that wasn't there," she said. "We aren't going to put a mountain there."

She noted that the next step is to begin removing invasive plants along the Scioto River, which make up 57 percent of the vegetation there.

Located at the park will be the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for a "green" building.

"This has been kind an abandoned area in town and there has been a lot of nice things going on and that's changed it," Starck said.

The center, open free to the public, will be run by GIAC staff with help from volunteers and will host various activities throughout the year. For the time being, much of the center's programming will focus on change relating to the area's transformation.

Part of the park is an Important Bird Area, a designated conservation area that is vital to birds and other biodiversity.

The center will operate a number of avian programs, such as banding birds to track migrations.

Starck said one the next projects will be to expand the area's forest edge.

In 20 or 30 years, she said, there will be a forest canopy where none exists today.

dcross@thisweeknews.com