Lake with a peninsula and trees

Runaway Bay

On a recent warm evening at the Runaway Bay apartment complex in Grandview, a middle-aged woman in a rowboat was chased by a gaggle of white swans, geese, mallards and who knows what else. They pursued her over the quarry’s still waters as she throws them crumbs. It is a sight to be seen, but only a few are able to enjoy this private quarry filtered by the nearby Scioto River because its surrounded by condos, apartments and ugly office buildings built a few decades ago. Irony is how this quarry is also home to Hidden Lake Condominiums.

In 2022, the Free Press published a flippant story on how a section of this quarry should be returned to the public and made into a beach with boats or kayaks to rent (pictured above).

Knock down the offices and dig out the rock walls and replace them with white sand. Tear out the parking lots to make a park. Set up a boundary within the spring-fed lake so tenants at both Runaway Bay and Hidden Lake have their areas. And for good measure, obliterate the iHeartMedia local corporate office across the street. 

This will never happen though – one of the quarries’ brutalist-looking offices is occupied by the Daimler Group, a local high-end commercial real estate developer and builder.

Now comes another local high-end developer to take what few nearby rain-filled quarries are left in the area. The Wagenbrenner brothers of Thrive Companies, who built the mixed-used monstrosity at Quarry Trails Metro Park, are cleaning up a junkyard of trashed cars on Mckinley Avenue to build the 900-apartment “Westbend” with a boat launch. Receiving millions in state brownfield remediation money (provided by taxpayers) to do so on top of City-approved tax abatements.

Removing the junkyard was needed to keep booming Columbus moving forward. The Wagenbrenners also cleaned up Quarry Trails, which was a brownfield.

But laughable is how after voting to approve the Westbend development, Columbus City Council stated, “By connecting more people to nature and natural resources, Westbend hopes to cultivate an area for residents and guests to live, work and play.”

Only for a few select residents, that is.

Density advocates such as Neighbors for More Neighbors Columbus will argue there is plenty of unused land within the 270 outer belt ripe for development. Arguably this is true, but near the banks of the Scioto River in Grandview – where culture could possibly go back 10,000 years – developers have bought so much land over the previous ten years the rest of Central Ohio can’t process what’s actually going on before it’s too late (and this goes for a lot of Central Ohio these days).

For instance, the lost-to-time Italian enclave of San Margherita near Trabue Road and McKinley Avenue, just a short jaunt from Runaway Bay, is now home to hundreds of new expensive condos and apartments. The enclave was also known as “Fly Town” when in the 1800s Italian immigrants with pickaxes dug out the limestone in these quarries for $1 a day and beaten if they slacked. Millennia’s before the Upper Arlington owners of these quarries spied on workers with telescopes, First Nations worked the land. And thrived because of it, as evident of Shrum Mound, believed to be a 2000-year old Adena burial mound.

“Tomato Dick” (Dick Capuano), an affable Vietnam vet, sold most of his 1,700-plant tomato farm to developers so they could build the San Margharita mixed-use, which also displaced a trailer park. Contradicting themselves, Density advocates say over-priced one-bedrooms stacked high will lower rents and invite high-end restaurants, bars and retail to move into the neighborhood. What must be unfortunate for the San Margharita development and Capuano’s vintage Italian flag painted vegetable stand (which still remains) is how a new and exciting self-storage facility was built directly across the street for the rich white people who are renting these tiny apartments but don’t know where to put the rest of their belongings. 

Catty-corner to San Margharita is the Quarry Trails Metro Park and its mixed-use mess called “Project QT.” Some Metro Park fans were so miffed they told the Free Press they will never vote for a Metro Parks bond issue again considering they were promised a world-class park in the heart of Central Ohio but instead got “Easton West”.

Quarry Trails has mountain bike trails and a waterfall, but the falls is crowded by development and a parking lot. Mountain bikers claim the trails were built by someone who doesn’t know much about mountain biking and potentially dangerous for the less experienced. Now comes word the rock face for climbers lacks authenticity while cumbersome rules and regulations invoked by Metro Parks isn’t worth the adventure.

“It looks horrible,” says self-described Scioto River preservationist Matthew Davis about Quarry Trails. “At first, they told everyone it was going to be a metro park and there was going to be just a few homes and minimal development. Not this whole massive development in this tiny little park. They ruined it for everyone who was here first.”

Besides activists like Davis, historians are scoffing at Quarry Trails. Wayne Carlson, a former trustee for the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society, still can’t believe that Trabue Dublin LLC, the mining company which previously owned the property, sold 420 acres to Thrive Companies and just 180 acres to Columbus Metro Parks.

“When you look at Quarry Trails, half of that or more is development,” said Carlson. “There are some huge buildings inside that and it’s like, ‘What?’ That doesn’t make sense. That whole quarry should have been given to the city.”

The City of Columbus though may have an opportunity to save a quarry in these historic lands from high-end developers. Up West Fifth Avenue from Runaway Bay is a dormant quarry mostly hidden from view, considering it is ringed by trees, weeds and a fence. Named McKinley Quarry, it is owned by the City of Columbus and has an island in its center where egrets and herons nest. Shrum Mound sits just 100 hundred feet or so from this quarries’ edge. 

McKinley Quarry is believed to be the last untouched dormant quarry in this area. The question now is…What is its future? Will the last of these awe-inspiring rain-filled quarries be given to the public so one and all can boat, fish, swim and feed the birds?

Unfortunately, Columbus’s history of shortsightedness has made the quarry unhealthy to swim in, says Davis.

“I have been told the quarry’s water is polluted with lime (calcium hydroxide),” said Davis.

Since the 1970s, the City of Columbus has used Mckinley Quarry to dump “residuals” or pollutants it removed from our water supply. These residuals are also referred to as “sludge” and can be used as a fertilizer for agriculture. Mckinley Quarry’s lifespan as dumping pool is limited, however. The City believes it will reach its max for these residuals by the next decade.

But if the Wagenbrenners can clean up brownfield after brownfield in Central Ohio, as they also did in Italian Village and Weinland Park, can the City someday remediate McKinley Quarry and not leave Shrum Mound standing stoically over a sludge pit filled with pollution?

It would be unsacred, indeed.