Crowds burden natural areas in Preservation Parks' of Delaware County

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Twins Trey and Claire Clayton, 4, of Westerville play on a log seesaw Sept. 10 in the natural play area at Shale Hollow Park in Lewis Center. With parks more crowded this year, Preservation Parks staffers say they're seeing more damage, such as broken saplings and trampled ground.

Damage to young trees and other natural features in some parks has Preservation Parks of Delaware County officials concerned.

Shale Hollow Park in Lewis Center has sustained the most damage, natural-resources manager Chris Roshon said.

"The park is very popular," he said. "It's been our most-visited park almost since it opened, and visitation is up throughout the parks this year."

Roshon said he did not believe the damage was malicious but rather the result of that extensive use.

Broken saplings, bare soil areas and trampled ground, and the formation of smaller trails "that aren't necessarily park trails" are among the damage park staff and visitors have noted, he said.

"We want people to use the park district and we want to protect the resource at the same time," Roshon said.

Preservation Parks executive director Tom Curtin said staff plans to "adopt a more-aggressive approach to educating visitors," suggesting signs, ropes and fallen tree branches could be used to try to prevent the kind of use that can lead to damage and to minimize any damage that has occurred.

"So many more folks are visiting our parks, and new folks from nearby places whose parks may not have opened, that the natural areas are just more susceptible to overuse," Curtin said.

He said some replanting or seeding might be completed at Shale Hollow, as well.

Roshon said repair and maintenance of the natural areas at the park would support the next series of projects in the parks' development, including an expanded parking lot close to its entrance and a shelter to be built near the natural play area.

He said those projects are planned over the "next year or two." Workers now are extending a primitive trail to the park's north end, connecting to an existing trail along Hyatts Road.

Roshon called Shale Hollow "the gem of the park district."

"You can almost forget you're in Lewis Center and right next to (U.S. Route) 23," he said.

He said inviting people into outdoor, natural spaces always will result in some impact, but said he hopes, through education, to minimize that impact.

"Our hope is that visitors will come in and enjoy and experience nature and leave the site in the same condition for the next visitor," Roshon said.

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