“Why shroud in secrecy a gigantic project?” asked Don Kloss, president of Central Ohio Nature
Map and Dr. Amy Acton

RAPID 5’s “vision” to put parks and greenways within a mile-and-a-half of all Franklin County residents is arguably one of the most ambitious public-private development endeavors in the history of Central Ohio.

RAPID 5 stands for “Rivers and Parks Imagination Design” and has a “vision” – they refuse to call it “plans” – for all five of Central Ohio major waterways: the Big Darby, the Scioto River, the Olentangy River, Alum Creek and the Big Walnut.

Those behind RAPID 5 and on its board are some of the biggest policy makers and developers in the region: MORPC, Franklin County Metro Parks, Thrive Developers, Continental Real Estate Company (described as a full-service retail and hospitality developer), M/I Homes and City of Columbus, to name a few.

But so far, RAPID 5 has left one significant and extremely large public group out of its preliminary vision plans or draft reports – the pubic itself.

Retiree Don Kloss, a naturalist and long-time Metro Parks volunteer, has been keeping a close eye on RAPID 5 since its inception in 2019. He believes Franklin County’s newest Metro Park – Quarry Trails in Grandview – could be a prototype to what the rest of the Metro Parks might become if RAPID 5 gets its way.

Metro Parks director Tim Moloney and others told the community that Quarry Trails, which is on the westside of the Scioto and a former brownfield, would be a world-class park in the heart of Franklin County. Instead, some are calling it “Easton West.” It’s more mixed-use than park. All five major Central Ohio waterways run through Metro Parks and in some cases multiple Metro Parks.

Kloss recently emailed RAPID 5 asking if he could attend future board meetings. He received the following response: “Thank you for reaching out to RAPID 5. Our board meetings are not open to the public. If you are interested in staying on top of RAPID 5 happenings and events, please visit our website and sign up for our email newsletter (if you have not done so already). Have a good evening.”

“If the meetings aren’t open to the public, why not?” asked Kloss who is also president of Central Ohio Nature. “Why shroud in secrecy a gigantic project that greatly affects wildlife conservation and the public long term throughout the county?”

The Free Press asked RAPID 5 spokesperson Rochelle Young: Why are these meetings closed, for instance, to fans of the Metro Parks? “Board meetings are quarterly and are not open to the public,” is all she said.

Also left out of any RAPID 5 planning are the legacy volunteers who have been caring for these waterways for decades. No local non-profit watershed group (environmental stewards) have been involved in nor asked to participate with the RAPID 5 design firms’ studies or preliminary vision plans.

For instance, Friends of Alum Creek and Tributaries (FACT), a non-profit started in 1998, asked to attend RAPID 5 board meetings but were declined.

The City of Westerville is moving ahead with its “Edge Adventure Park,” a proposed 10.5 acre project adjacent to Alum Creek. Ziplines, an indoor pavilion, a large parking lot, and a trail bridge over Alum Creek are in the works. The Columbus-based landscape architecture firm MKSK is the designer. MKSK has also been hired by RAPID 5 to envision the Olentangy.

Recently, the City of Westerville’s Randy Auler, Director of Parks and Recreation, spoke publicly of Edge Adventure Park and RAPID 5’s vision for Alum Creek, but never mentioned Friends of Alum Creek and Tributaries watershed action plan.

Dr. Amy Acton, at the onset of the pandemic, became the daily face of Ohio’s struggle against the coronavirus. She was hailed a hero for her tough response and should be commended (“Not all heroes wear capes,” she said). Conservatives, however, called her “The Doctor of Doom,” one reason why she suddenly resigned as Ohio’s health director, which raised speculation she would move on to public office.

Dr. Acton did consider running for the US Senate but she returned working for the Columbus Foundation, which recently invested $500,000 into RAPID 5. They apparently convinced Dr. Acton to lead RAPID 5. She took over in May of last year. 

Mayoral candidate Joe Motil, a critic of out-of-control development in Columbus, believes the public and private powers behind RAPID 5 made a calculated PR decision when choosing Dr. Acton.

“Dr. Amy Acton was selected as the face of this organization to help limit opposition to the plans of RAPID 5,” said Motil. “The elected leaders of this city and county have total disregard for the never-ending destruction of our greenspace and the living creatures that require it for survival. RAPID 5 is all about economic development that benefits our rich and powerful. How ironic is it that a report just came out that Columbus is the most polluted city in the U.S., has the worst heat island effect in the U.S., and only 22 percent tree canopy coverage. But they want to decimate the very things that help to reduce pollution and heat island effect and decrease our tree canopy. All for the sake of the almighty dollar.”