Sawmill Saturdays will return April 6.

The resumption of the programs at the ultra-urban 17.5-acre Sawmill Wetlands near Sawmill and West Dublin-Granville roads follows a protracted period of time when it appeared as if the land might be lost to development.

“It has been a long haul – a very emotional seven years,” said Carolyn Turner of the Worthington Hills Garden Club, one of numerous organizations that have backed preservation of the Sawmill Wetlands. “For us, it’s a chance to get back out there.”

Though the wetlands have been open to the public since last year, the first Sawmill Saturday in about 18 months will run from 10 a.m. to noon, said Michelle Shinew, co-founder of the Friends of the Sawmill Wetlands. The events were canceled while the fate of the site was the subject of legal proceedings.

The future of the wetlands, which, Shinew said, are surrounded by a “retail wasteland,” became a concern in 2012, when it was learned state officials were considering swapping that site for property that might be used for recreational purposes along the Olentangy River.

“Why would you take the one little place that’s supposed to be protected and destroy it?” Shinew said.

The Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals ruled in March 2018 that a lower court had erred in saying the state had to turn the land over to a developer.

A representative of that developer, James Schrim III of JDS So Cal Ltd., said he disagreed with the decision.

“What this decision means for the citizens of the state of Ohio is that contracts are important, unless they’re with the state,” he told The Columbus Dispatch in a story that was published May 3. “We believe that political influence and hysteria and cowardice have supplanted the rule of law, especially the rule of contract law, in this case.”

The gate to the wetlands was padlocked during much of the time in court, Shinew said.

“It was locked up because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, in their defense, didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “They let Scouts and researchers and birders go in, but they didn’t make any other use of it.”

It now is open again, Shinew said.

Leighland Arehart, district law-enforcement supervisor with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, said the wetlands were reopened to the public last summer. They are open from dawn to dusk daily unless a special event has been planned, he said. Parking is available in a lot on the north side of Sawmill Place Boulevard.

“That area, when the ODNR obtained it back in the late ’80s, I believe, we actually called it the Sawmill Wetlands Education Area,” said Korey Brown, Division of Wildlife district manager. “Our goal was to make it available to school groups and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to have educational walks there.”

“So it’s all about educating the kids,” Turner said. “We thought we had lost that. To watch the kids come out there, it makes everything worth it to see them there.”

“We support Michelle Shinew and Friends of the Sawmill Wetlands,” Brown said. “Their group has adopted that area and really helped with the routine maintenance, such as trash pickup and control of invasive species. ... For the public to have access to the area is definitely beneficial to us.”

The entrance to the wetlands is off Sawmill Place Boulevard in northwest Columbus, east of Sawmill Road, north of state Route 161 and south of Interstate 270.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1