Worthington's Olentangy Parklands: Middle schooler pitches plan for mountain-bike trail

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Worthington Parks and Recreation is in the early stages of planning a mountain bike trail in this section of woods south of the soccer fields and west of West Wilson Bridge Road in the Olentangy Parklands.

A proposal for a mountain-bike trail in Worthington's Olentangy Parklands, as pitched by a Worthington Schools seventh-grader, is starting to take shape.

Worthington Parks and Recreation Department director Darren Hurley briefed City Council on April 5 regarding a motion the parks and recreation commission had approved in late March, designating an approximately 4-acre wooded area in the park “for trail development and usage of a mountain-biking facility for two years,” under several conditions, according to the motion. 

Parks and recreation officials are expected to meet with the Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization – a nonprofit that works with localities to design, construct and manage mountain-biking areas – in the near future to discuss a contract, according to Hurley. 

If an agreement can be reached with COMBO, Hurley said, the matter could be brought back to council in the coming weeks for authorization.

This would fulfill the first condition under the commission's motion, which called for reaching and maintaining an agreement with COMBO, “or an organization with a similar mission to provide oversight, design and development assistance and a volunteer base, and to minimize resources required of the city to provide the facility,” according to the motion. 

“What we expect (COMBO) to come and do is to kind of help us with the design once they get a chance to look at the land we have available,” Hurley said. 

The plan still is in its infancy, and design specifics haven’t been hashed out yet, Hurley said. But the trail, if approved, is slated for construction in a wooded area “north and west of West Wilson Bridge Road, south of the large soccer field and east of the Olentangy Trail,” the motion stated. 

Kelly Shaw, a seventh-grade student at Phoenix Middle School and son of parks and recreation commission member Michele Miller, pitched the mountain-bike trail proposal to the commission in December 2020. 

Kelly originally approached council member Rachael Dorothy with his idea, and she arranged for him to meet with Hurley.

“I was so impressed, I kind of on short notice got him on the agenda for the parks and recreation commission at their December meeting,” Hurley said. “He had done an amazing job and certainly had done a lot of research. (We were convinced by) a combination of the great research and proposal he put together and just the board’s kind of awareness that, in our region, this has become a really popular activity.” 

Kelly said he thinks a bike trail at the Olentangy Parklands would receive heavy use considering the popularity of Gators Bike Park, a quarter-mile bike trail behind Granby Elementary School. 

“I definitely think the demand is there,” he said. “If you look at how much Granby’s bike park is being used, it’s being used by a bunch of Worthington citizens.” 

Kelly also said it was a little perilous to traverse busy roadways on bikes to get to Gators Bike Trail, 1490 Hard Road in Columbus. He said his proposal also was inspired by envisioning another local bike trail that was a little safer to travel to on bikes. 

“I’ve gone up (to Gators Bike Trail) with friends (before), and we’ve almost been hit with cars multiple times,” he said. “So the idea was to create somewhere where people could go and mountain-bike but be safe.” 

No budget is set for the trail right now, and if the project continues, it’s expected to rely heavily on donations, grants and volunteers, Hurley said. 

The commission's motion called for no capital funds to be invested into the park for the two-year trial period, “allowing for an assessment of the needs and interest for this facility and for the city to assess how to prioritize alongside the projects already being planned.”

“We want it to be volunteer- and donation-driven and/or grant-driven for now,” Hurley said. “Let’s see if we can get a good design and get it up and running under those parameters, and we’ll see how the community reacts and whether we want to consider it for funding.” 

Hurley also said the plan wouldn’t call for carving out large swaths of trees and vegetation. 

“It’s very low impact. We’re not clearing the woods,” he said. “We want to be real clear; this isn’t a (project that requires) coming in and cutting everything down. We’re not going to harm the environment.

“It’s really just kind of removing some honeysuckle and things we actually don’t want in there anyway to make room for these things that actually go much better under the existing trees.”

A design could be drafted in early summer, with possible construction underway by late summer or early fall, Hurley said, depending on whether an agreement could be reached with COMBO and receive council authorization in the next few weeks. 

“I think (the proposal is) a good thing,” council president Bonnie Michael said. “Especially because we have a strong support group of volunteers that want to try to help make this happen. That reduces the city expense and staff time to add an amenity that would be open to the public for free.” 

The other three conditions in the parks and recreation motion include: 

• “All improvements during the trial period must be approved by city staff with special consideration given to the natural and environmental impacts of any work done in this area.”

• “In the event the volunteer organization under agreement during this trial does not provide a safe and satisfactory facility for mountain biking, understanding development without funding will be gradual and move incrementally, the city after engagement and opportunities to address by the organization, will exercise its right to remove any added features and objects and restore the area to its natural state.”

• “Staff will notify neighbors in the immediate area to gather input and address any concerns during the planning stages of the project.”

High North public hearing slated April 19

In other city news, council introduced legislation April 5 to be deliberated over the next few weeks regarding whether to approve High North developer Direct Retail Partners’ request to rezone the 7227 N. High St. site into a planned-unit development. 

A public hearing on the matter, which, if approved, would be a major goalpost in Direct Retail Partners’ bid to redevelop and rebrand the Shops at Worthington Place mall into the High North mixed-use development, is scheduled for April 19. 

The Architectural Review Board and Municipal Planning Commission on March 25 voted to recommend that council approve the PUD application.  

If council approves the PUD, the project would enter a 60-day referendum period before returning to the ARB and MPC for final approval. 

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve