Who could have ever predicted where we were going to end up as we began 2020. As 2020 was going to be the first year for us to begin working on the promises and projects for the new levy cycle, staff was excited and ready to begin. With three major capital projects: Quarry Trails, a new nature center at Blacklick Woods and several other capital projects all on our minds, 2020 was setting itself up to be another great year for us.
We started January and February with a vengeance, getting designs and construction documents ready to go, gearing up for our seasonal staffing and preparing for many special events (both new and returning). By the time we were approaching the end of February, we were ready for what may be one of our busiest years ever. Little did we know…
When the news finally hit that there was going to be shutdowns, no school and a general slowing down of everything around us, we knew Metro Parks was in a position to be there as one of the last places for everyone to have a little bit of normalcy in their lives. Staff began working with the singular mission of keeping our parks open, clean and safe! All of our decisions were based on this and we developed a staffing and decision-making structure to be able to meet this mission.
To best sum up the next several months I would like to quote the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” Well not only did he come…she came…they came…almost everybody came. Our parks, as the last bit of normalcy, saw record attendance throughout the year. In fact, Metro Parks will have seen over 3.5 million more visitors in 2020 than they did in any other year of our existence. People came for the trails, fitness, lunch, dinner or just to get out of the house. We saw our picnic areas turn into home offices, our creeks and ravines became classrooms and our trails became fitness centers. All of this happened while keeping our parks open, clean and safe.
With everything else in chaos, all it took was one visit to a Metro Park to bring optimism and joy back to me. Watching the kids play and enjoy the outdoors at our summer camps was always a refreshing sight to see. Another one of the amazing happenings this year was a visit to any of our parks with water. There was always a rainbow of colors with all of the canoes and kayaks enjoying a day on the lakes and rivers of Metro Parks. Even more than our camps and water sports was the overwhelming (in a good way) increase in bicycles at all of our parks. 2020 truly proved the old saying, “just like riding a bike!” a day could not go by where I didn’t see families getting out to one of our parks and peddling around. I have to even admit that my family logged more miles this year on our bikes than we ever have. While the active sports and activities seemed to predominate the activities at our parks, 2020 was also an amazing year for just getting outside and disappearing from it all. The trails in our most remote areas (i.e. Clear Creek) saw more foot traffic and picnic baskets than ever.
While some projects were hampered or delayed, nothing has stopped; the nature center is on schedule for a 2021 construction, tens of thousands of trees have been planted and our 20th park “Quarry Trails” is slated to open late next year. We were even able to start a new program during 2020 which we call the Olentangy Reemployment Program. This program is designed as a recruitment tool for the district to introduce new employees to employment opportunities at Metro Parks while undertaking a major invasive species removal project along the Olentangy River. What used to be a hidden gem along State Route 315, is now visible from Henderson Road to the north. As this program develops we anticipate continued growth while opening up many more miles of our riverfronts throughout Central Ohio.
While I think all of us are looking ahead to 2021, we could not be prouder of our staff and visitors with what we were able to do in 2020. As 2020 is now in our rearview mirror, I want to be the first person to coin the term “looking ahead with 2021 vision.”
Hope to see you soon at a park.