To some in Worthington, the newly created prairie-grass meadows are ecological meccas, where butterflies and birds frolic in the summer breeze.

To some, the newly created prairie-grass meadows are ecological meccas, where butterflies and birds frolic in the summer breeze.

To others, they are unruly messes of unmowed weeds that harbor mice, fleas, snakes and disease-carrying ticks.

Welcome to the Olentangy Parklands, where the city's efforts to improve the natural setting of the bike path has been met with a storm of controversy.

The problem seems to center around about five small areas that once were part of the well-manicured lawn between the bike path and backyards, mostly between Tucker Drive and Whitney Avenue.

This spring, as part of a much larger project that includes planting trees and installing a new wood-chip walking path, the city planted grasses and wildflowers and stopped mowing in those areas, which total about 3.75 acres.

When those whose houses back up to the new prairie areas realized what was occurring, they began complaining to the city. Some even took matters into their own hands, mowing down flowers and tall grasses and chopping down trees.

Their collective wrath spewed forth during a July 21 meeting at the Worthington Community Center, where about 50 people showed up to discuss their concerns.

Not everyone who attended objected to the project. Some defended the tall grass areas, saying that the parkland is for wildlife and concerns about ticks and other critters are overblown.

Masefield Street resident Wanda Davis, however, presented a petition with some 200 signatures of neighbors who want the grassy areas mowed.

She said the areas harbor ticks, creating a serious health threat, since the areas are closer to homes. Fleas also live in high grass, as do mosquitoes, she said.

Several residents said the mice population has gotten out of hand this summer. Dead mice can be seen along the bike paths, they said.

One woman said her husband mowed the area behind their house because their young child could not get out the gate. They also have a chipmunk problem, she said.

Masefield resident James Robison admitted to being one of the renegade mowers.

"I'm going to mow the area back there until the police come and say I'm breaking the law," he said.

Parks and recreation director Lynda Chambers said she was surprised that the project has stirred such controversy.

"I never expected it would cause an uproar or I would have held public meetings first," she said on Tuesday.

Since the meeting, she has walked the area with City Manager Matt Greeson and the city parks crew. They discussed how the project could be redesigned, taking into consideration the desires of the neighbors.

They will survey individual property owners to address the concerns of each, she said.

"We just want to regroup and make sure we're not aggravating anyone," Chambers said.

The wildflower areas are just one part of a program to improve the 100-acre park that runs along the Olentangy River, from West Wilson Bridge Road to West Granville Road.

Planting trees in areas where honeysuckle and other dead species have been removed is a major part of the project. American elms also are being planted.

Wood-chip paths are being built to provide walkers with an alternative to the busy paved path. The wood chips were generated from trees that fell during Hurricane Ike.

Two new benches also are part of the plan, along with new signs, bikeway visibility improvements, playground renovations and tennis-court resurfacing.

cbrooks@thisweeknews.com