Big Darby Creek, classified as a state and national scenic river, represents an important natural resource in central Ohio due to its vast diversity and abundance of aquatic and terrestrial life.

In an effort to preserve the ecology of this biologically diverse watershed against advancing urban development, the Big Darby Accord was completed in 2006. This partnership includes Hilliard and nine other jurisdictions within the Big Darby watershed that are committed to preserving the ecological health of this sensitive watershed while allowing economic growth.

Two examples, Hilliard Bradley High School and the Big Darby Town Center, are described later to better illustrate the efforts involved with complying with the Big Darby Accord.

Bradley, Hilliard's third high school opened to students in August 2009, was constructed to follow the guidelines set by the Big Darby Accord to preserve the area's watershed. As such, special landscaping and building features were incorporated during the design phase of the project that make the school "as green" as possible and thereby minimize any impact to the nearby Big Darby Creek. These unique environmental features also provide learning opportunities for students not available at many other schools in central Ohio.

During the design phase, some of the grounds surrounding the building were planted with grasses and trees two years before the school opened to allow sufficient time for the vegetation to become fully established. "Green" landscaping features include rain gardens and wetland channels and ponds that all are part of the extensive stormwater-management system designed to improve the quality of the water flowing to the Big Darby Creek.

Water stagnation is minimized by the different depths and cutouts of the wetland channels and ponds, and the baseball and softball fields are maintained without the use of chemicals. The rain gardens, wetlands and associated wildlife provide outdoor biology laboratories for students interested in environmental or biology related college majors.

Another more recent example of sustainability efforts in the Big Darby watershed is the planned Big Darby Town Center development, endorsed in 2011 by Franklin County, the city of Columbus, Brown Township and Prairie Township. Just south of Interstate 70, it would be designed to accommodate a mix of residential, retail, office and public uses that comply with the goal of protecting and conserving Big Darby Creek and its watershed.

In 2013, the Ohio chapter of the American Planning Association awarded the Big Darby Town Center Master Plan its Award of Excellence in the Focused Planning Project category.

Envisioned as a sustainable and walkable community, the Town Center would be designed to meet the water-quality goals and land-use recommendations of the Big Darby Accord. Specific features include implementing environmentally sensitive stormwater-management techniques; reducing impervious cover; preserving wetlands; establishing wetland buffers and riparian setbacks; and restoring degraded waterways to natural meandering streams. Reduced stormwater runoff would be achieved by a combination of naturalized detention and infiltration elements, such as rain gardens, bioswales and wetlands.

Greg Smith is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.