Image of land

One of the last sprawling undeveloped areas inside I-270 is being transformed into Franklin County’s newest metro park – and at the same time into a $650 million mixed-use development packed with retail, offices and residential. Both should be open in some capacity by next year.  

Apparently, this is the future of parks nationwide. Trails, woodland and lakes integrated with retail, offices and expensive housing. The “Columbus Way” has embraced it, and Quarry Trails Metro Park along with “Project QT,” the mixed-used area, is their first attempt at getting it right. 

“We’ve become more intentional about it,” as told to Columbus Business Firstby Kenny McDonald, CEO of One Columbus, formerly Columbus 2020, which is working hand-in-hand with the Columbus Partnership. “There’s emerging ideas around the country to take parks and make them not just green spaces but places where we convene.”

Weren’t “we” already doing that at the metro parks?

Nevertheless, Quarry Trails is set to become the 20th Columbus and Franklin County Metro Park, a milestone-number Metro Park officials love to tout. And a coup for the 75-year-old Metro Parks for sure.

Just west of the Scioto River in Grandview, these massive limestone quarries – picturesque and even awe inspiring – have been hoarded by mining companies and developers for decades. Metro Parks and the Project QT developer, Thrive Companies, reportedly also capped a landfill on the site, while accentuating a hidden waterfalls and building rad-looking mountain bike trails (see images below).

But there’s an obvious lament amongst some metro park fans as the first phase of Project QT and its structures begin to emerge from the sandy rubble off Trabue Road. Worse, is how initial media reports suggested Quarry Trails would eventually be surrounded by development.

“When you look at the newest metro park, half of that or more is development. 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 rather than have them purchase it,” said Wayne Carlson, a former trustee for the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society.

Previously owned by the Trabue Dublin LLC, the entire property, called Marble Cliff Quarries, consisted of 600 acres, and 420 of those acres were sold in 2018 to the “Columbus Way” approved developer Thrive Companies, formerly Wagenbrenner Development, for an undisclosed price. Trabue Dublin LLC then sold 180 acres to Metro Parks for $1.86 million.

Metro Parks and Thrive Companies are still deciding where the park’s entrances will be, says Peg Hanley, spokesperson for Metro Parks. They were anticipating the main entrance would be off Trabue, which would first take visitors through Project QT to get to the park.

“They are continuous with each other,” says Hanley about Quarry Trails and Project QT. “Right now, we are working out entrances because there are going to be multiple entrances. We were anticipating that the (main) entrance was going to be Trabue. At this point today we are not sure because of some delays we are encountering.”

The Free Press asked Hanley about public concerns the entire property should have been made a metro park and not dominated by mixed-use development.

Consider how these quarries helped build Ohio freeways, the Ohio Statehouse, Ohio Stadium. Mined in the 1800s by hundreds of Italian immigrants wielding pickaxes making $1 a day and beaten if they slacked off. Thousands of years before the workers and the quarries themselves were exploited, this was sacred ground presumably for Native Americans as the impressive Shrum Mound is a short distance from here.

“Quarry Trails Metro Park, our 20th metro park, is for all the people of Central Ohio, Ohio, and whoever wants to come to this park, because we think it’s going to be a real recreation destination not just locally but regionally. The park is free, there’s no restrictions,” says Hanley. “It’s no different (than several other local metro parks). Apartments abut up to Blendon Woods. There’s a retail place next to Scioto Audubon. It’s just the way Columbus has grown.”

Quarry Trails and Project QT will soon be a must destination for Central Ohioans. There’s even been talk of a micro-brewery at Project QT for thirsty mountain bikers and others. No doubt, Columbus needs more things to do to attract and keep young people here.

Both Quarry Trails and Project QT are in flux and plans could be altered. For instance, Project QT could have several additional phases emerge in the near future as Thrive Companies is allowing part of their 400-plus acres to still be mined for limestone. They’ve stated the mining company should be vacating in the next several years.

Which raises this question for the community: Must the quarries continue to be exploited by the despotic ultra-rich for easy and huge money?

As Wayne Carlson sees it, for Thrive Companies to not surround Quarry Trails with development, sounds “pretty altruistic from a standpoint of a company like that.”

The Free Press believes if Quarry Trails is eventually surrounded by development, especially retail, then it should be renamed to “Easton West” or simply “Weston.”