What Metro Parks mean to me

Park visitor Dianne Clay, in pink shirt, enjoys a moment of achievement as she reaches the top of the finishing hill for the Mud & Madness event at Sharon Woods. (click to enlarge)
Park visitor Dianne Clay, in pink shirt, enjoys a moment of achievement as she reaches the top of the finishing hill for the Mud & Madness event at Sharon Woods. (click to enlarge)

More than 8-million visitors come to the 19 Metro Parks every year, and every one of you has a story to tell and reasons aplenty for being there. We chatted with one frequent park visitor recently who is very into fitness and likes to do something active every day. Dianne Clay is a retired school teacher, in her early sixties, and says it’s far better to do her fitness training in a park rather than a gym. And who can doubt her, if you want to combine beautiful scenery, outdoor fresh air, and a chance to see wildlife with your fitness routine.

Last year Dianne did a series of big hikes in the Smoky Mountains, and now she is training to get in peak condition for a snow-shoeing expedition to Colorado in December. She’ll ascend to over 13,000 feet and use the 10th Mountain Division huts for overnights. She laughs that there are no snow-covered mountains here in Central Ohio to train on, but twice a week she goes to Highbanks and walks four times around the Dripping Rock Trail, about 10 miles a trip.

Just to make sure she isn’t slacking, Dianne rides her bike frequently out on the Heritage Trail (she lives near Homestead Metro Park, giving her easy access to the 6.1-mile paved trail that stretches from Main Street in Hilliard to Cemetery Pike near Plain City), either on her own or with groups of friends. She often takes evening walks with her husband at Homestead, and also hikes with friends at Highbanks and Blendon Woods.

All well and good, for an inspiring sixty-something devoted to health and fitness. But the parks have more meaning for Dianne than just outdoor spaces used to enhance physical fitness. They also help Dianne and her family to revitalize themselves psychologically and spiritually. She talks enthusiastically about taking her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, to Glacier Ridge and Inniswood. “My mom might not even remember that she’s had breakfast, but she always seems to remember the sounds of the birds and the names of the flowers. It confirms my feeling that being out and about in the parks is good for the soul, and a great stress reliever.”

Although Dianne had been to most of our Metro Parks, she hadn’t been to Clear Creek until September this year, when she went to the Half the Park Trails in a Day hike. Clear Creek was a revelation to her. Just a week before, she had been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and enjoyed seeing the “fabulous rock formations.” When she saw Clear Creek, she was delighted and astonished to find rock formations equally impressive here. “I never knew we had anything as beautiful as this in our Metro Parks system.”

The landscape made such a big impression that Dianne chose to attend another organized program at Clear Creek in October, a four-mile hike to Buzzard’s Roost for visitors age 50 and older. These Metro Five-0 programs come in four levels, and a hike at Clear Creek is definitely Level 4, challenging and exciting for any active senior. (You can look for Metro Five-0 programs in our searchable program database or in our quarterly Parkscope magazine).

Dianne discovered that it wasn’t just the landscape that made this group hike special for her. She also enjoyed connecting with active and like-minded people of a similar age who love nature. She made new friends on this program and has already hiked with some of them. You may find that our Winter Hike Series, which starts in January, will present many more opportunities for Dianne and all you readers to enjoy the parks and meet friends old and new.

As a teacher, Dianne worked with the gifted education program at the elementary school level. One of the things she loved about the gifted kids was their sense of aesthetics that led them to find nature so important. It’s one more reason why she values Metro Parks and its nature education and interpretation programs for both kids and adults, led by park naturalists and volunteers. Education continues to be a core interest for Dianne, who is certified as a stream quality monitor, with ODNR. She has frequently led stream-quality monitoring programs with girl scouts and school kids.

Metro Parks offers more than a thousand public programs every year and Dianne is a committed participant. She often goes to programs with a friend, who marks out the ones she would like to go to in our quarterly magazine, Parkscope. One program marked out this year was the Mud & Madness series. Dianne and her friend signed up to go the Sharon Woods event, where they had a great (if very muddy) time. That seems quite evident from the beaming smile on Dianne’s face (she’s wearing the pink shirt) in the photograph above, as she stands close to the top of the finishing hill.