Columbus is a massive flat concrete and asphalt pancake on vast prairie land with one million new residents projected by 2050. Building new Metro Parks is essential to give the community more things to do and connect them to nature.

The good news is two new Metro Parks on the Far South Side are scheduled to open at the end of this year.

Under construction behind the Great Southern Shopping Center is the Great Southern Metro Park on the banks of the Scioto River. A bike trail down the river will connect to downtown. The Bank Run Metro Park was mapped out close to Big Walnut Creek within the Village of Lockbourne near several large dormant quarries now filled with rainwater once owned by Shelly and Sands Inc., a mining company.

Unfortunately, the two new parks may have some bad news baggage as well. Because a few Metro Park fans are wondering: Will the parks have a massive “mixed used” property connected or even in the park itself?

That’s what happened to Quarry Trails Metro Park in Grandview after the Shelly Company – also a mining company but not affiliated with Shelly and Sands Inc. – sold some of its dormant quarries to both Metro Parks and Thrive Companies, one of Columbus’s top mixed-use developers.

“Quarry Trails seems like an amenity for the residents of Wagenbrenner’s development [the family that owns Thrive Companies],” said a fan of Metro Parks who did not want to offer their name for publication. “When one goes there to hike, it almost feels like you are intruding on the new neighborhood. This isn’t the experience of being in nature that I get at the other parks, except maybe Scioto Audubon.”

Metro Parks has said Bank Run, named after a type of rock mined in these quarries, not the economic disaster, will primarily be for private events such as weddings and corporate outings, which probably means no kayaking in the quarries.

As for the Great Southern Metro Park, some South Side residents told the Free Press they were getting mixed messages from both City officials and Metro Park employees whether the park would ever become a reality. Even though Franklin County voters in 2018 passed a 10-year, 0.95-mill replacement levy to build more Metro Parks.

“I have calls into Metro Parks. The last email I have from them is they were out of funds and work was stopping,” says South Side activist Bruce Miller president of the Scioto Southland Civic Association

Weird timing is how after the Walmart at the Great Southern Shopping Center abruptly closed, which was soon followed by City officials spilling the beans on how the Great Southern Shopping Center could someday become the next “Short North,” construction equipment began moving in to build the Metro Park.

Which raises this question: Was the park not going to happen unless the aging shopping plaza was scrapped for a new massive mixed-use development to take its place?

Metro Parks spokesperson Jill Snyder disputes this, saying the “Great Southern Metro Park was never shelved” and “we began working on the property including additional land acquisition in 2021.”

“There is much work needed to create a park in the area, but we are excited to make the connection to the Scioto River and nearby wetlands,” said Snyder. “We believe residents in the area will greatly benefit from the trail connectivity and access to greenspace. The project includes many partner agencies such as the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the City of Columbus, AEP [American Electric Power], ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources], Columbus Police Department, Lowe’s, Heer to Serve and the various community stakeholders in the South Side area.”   

Metro Park fan Don Kloss’s archery club is near Bank Run Metro Park, and he often hikes through the old Erie Canal locks which still exist in Lockbourne. But Bank Run makes this certified naturalist take pause, because he wonders if this park could go the way of Quarry Trails, which is looking more and more like “Easton West.”

“Everything I see in the way of comments from people on Nextdoor is that there’s an awful lot of people who are upset with what’s going on. They hate what was done with Quarry Trails,” said Kloss.

Kloss also has serious concerns about RAPID 5, or “Rivers and Parks Imagination Design.” An immense private and public “vision,” not a plan yet, to remake Central Ohio’s five major waterways: The Big Darby, the Scioto River, the Olentangy River, Alum Creek and the Big Walnut Creek. Kloss believes Quarry Trails Metro Park, which hugs the Scioto River, is a RAPID 5 sample model or “prototype.”

Coincidentally, Metro Parks director Tim Moloney – who has a cozy relationship with Thrive Companies which built the mixed use development at Quarry Trails – has publicly stated his “full-time job now is working on RAPID 5 projects,” which makes Kloss and others wonder who’s running Metro Parks.

Both Metro Parks and RAPID 5 have released designs or artist renditions on how they envision what they would like to see happen in Lockbourne, a sleepy village lost to time close to a large stretch of Big Walnut Creek. Metro Parks bought the 105-acre Bank Run property for $2 million and used Clean Ohio funds to cover 64 percent of the purchase price. 

RAPID 5 has already given their “vision,” for Lockbourne a name: “Lockbourne Landing,” which could include new retail buildings, a cultural center and museum.

The future for Lockbourne sure sounds altruistic, but are hundreds of high-end condos and fancy shopping plazas also part of this so-called “vision” that RAPID 5 is keeping out of sight?

“From the east end of the quarry, you can literally walk 15 yards and be on the banks of the Big Walnut Creek,” says Kloss. “The quarry is at least twice the size of Quarry Trails Metro Park. I have to believe that this park is going to be another Quarry Trails, but on a much larger scale. It’s sickening, because this area right now hosts a large population of deer hawks, and other wildlife. The village of Lockbourne itself has historic ties to the old Erie Canal system, and some of the locks have still survived and can be visited.”  

At this time, says Village of Lockbourne mayor Christie Ward, “We have not been approached by any high-end developers for future residential mixed-use development in Lockbourne.”

But they are aware of RAPID 5’s vision for Lockbourne.

“[We were] fortunate to be included in the initial discussions. We would love to be able to implement those plans, but funding is an issue,” she said. “The locks and canal in the park make it very unique and highlights our rich history. We have a walking trail along the canal and Big Walnut that is used by residents as well as visitors.”

Kloss hopes the forgotten past of Lockbourne will save it from mixed-used developers who have their fangs out for sleepy villages.

“When the canal system flourished, Lockbourne was an important warehouse town. It was the start of the Columbus feeder system. All goods going to Columbus on the canal system from the east passed through Lockbourne. Turning this village into a trendy shopping and pub spot would ruin its historical significance, in my opinion,” he said.