“Robin Hood and Little John walkin’ through the forest
Laughin’ back and forth at what the other’ne has to say
Reminiscin’, This-‘n’-thattin’ havin’ such a good time
Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day”
(Disney’s Robin Hood)
There’s a swing in my step, as I whistle this familiar tune. With a little help from Walt Disney, I can imagine Robin Hood and his Merry Men hurrying through the forest, making a quick escape, with a glint in their eyes and mischief in their hearts.
All around me there’s a lightness of mood, a spirit of adventure, and an airy feeling of freedom. I sense a childlike giddiness amongst the adults in the crowd, whose ages span many decades. The kids can hardly contain their energy and excitement; their playfulness and uninhibited bravery are apparent. In these 100 acres of forest, all are encouraged to explore!
Newly acquired by the Columbus Metro Parks, after more than 50 years of negotiation, the forest before us is standing tall, with all its hidden treasures. The hope is to expand this “park” soon, by another 50 acres, and the overarching goal is connecting and growing the entire Metro Park system.
This newest Metro Park will be ancillary to Blendon Woods, tended to by Blendon’s caretakers, and opened to the public for free exploration. But today I’m here for a preview hike, led by the Director of the Metro Parks, and open only to Friends of Metro Parks, who are just as instrumental in the care of the parks around town.
We are waiting for our guided hike to begin, and it sinks in that this is what Ohio looked like long ago, in the days before urban (and suburban) development! We’ve traveled through time. The experience of stepping into the unknown is kind of the point of this park. This hike will be the first of many, in organized groups, on solo adventures, and with the aim of inspiring a deep love of nature.
As we enter the forest, spreading out to find the best route, we are quite loud, with about 100 hikers in attendance. The trees are bare, with their fallen leaves crunching underfoot. Small signs of spring, in the form of the first bold spring flowers, pop up all around us. Tiny purple and white flowers, with five delicate petals surrounding a dainty yellow center, are identified as Spring Beauty. They stand in contrast to the mud colored blanket of leaves we are marching our way through.
Our pace is slow, casual, and we are slowed further by our affection for all the change that comes with spring. We stop to admire it, to snap photos, and to breathe the forest in. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to capture the image, but there was a fair amount of tree hugging going on in this group.
Despite the size of our group – the hike was offered to all current Friends of Metro Parks, and around 100 of them pleased organizers by showing up – we will hike together. In this space, on this land, the hike leaders and sweeps can’t tell a hiker who needs to cut out early to “follow the trail back”. This was explained at the start of the hike – if you find a trail, a deer made it.
In an unusual twist, this unique patch of land comes with no plans for development. There won’t be bathrooms or shelter houses, playgrounds or nature centers. The Metro Parks doesn’t intend to create clearly defined, mapped-out trails. Perhaps this freedom and uncertainty is what has the group so charged up, or maybe it’s just the spring air.
Just the day before there had been a wet chill in the air, even though we’d all thought we were past the cold temperatures of winter. I lace up my hiking boots, wondering how many layers I needed to wear on a hike during this volatile, quickly changing, season.
The hike was advertised as a Difficulty Level of 5, on a scale that tops out at 5! I realize that I’m in for a very difficult hike! It had been advertised on Facebook as such: “Be prepared to climb up and slide down steep hills and ravines,” and “This incredible property features mature forests, ravines, creeks and hills. . . There are no trails, and we will often be crossing very rugged terrain.” (Event Facebook Page)
But the sun is shining, as the Director speaks of a child’s love of the forest, wanting to explore, and run, and climb and jump. In this undisturbed forest, all of this is possible! First and foremost, that’s because there’s NO understory, no hostile takeover of the native forest by invasive species, like the honeysuckle found all over Columbus.
And so, we go on an adventure, not worried about getting the slippery brown mud on our hiking boots . . . or on our knees, as we climb up the steep banks. . . or on our bottoms, and we unexpectedly find ourselves sliding down the other side.
“Did you take a tumble?” a fellow hiker asks.
“Yes, but it’s all good – I thought I could do what the 12-year-olds were doing!”
“Me too!” she says, “The minute you give up . . . you’re done!”
A spirited 10-year-old girl, in muddy jeans and a black Friends of Metro Parks t-shirt, is being goaded on by her playmates, encouraged to jump from one fallen tree to the next, and the next. She responds, with admirable assertiveness, “I don’t have to do it if I don’t want to!” Well, isn’t that the truth?!
A bit further along, a father notices his 8-year-old son inching closer, and closer, to the slippery, rock-strewn edge of the stream. “Josiah, make good choices,” he calls out. And he does. . . or at least as good as the choices made by many of the excited adults on the hike, who are walking across fallen logs, leaping across the creek, and suddenly feeling their feet slip out from underneath them, as leaves give way in the wet mud.
Early in the trek I’d heard a few hikers whispering about how the hike may have been falsely advertised, as being a “Level 5”. The same hikers were singing a different tune an hour and a half later, as the group scoped out a route back the way they came. At the top of a particularly steep hill, hikers are seen checking their Fitbits and heart monitors, to measure (and compare) their elevated heart rates. But every one of us made it to the top of the last steep climb, and to the end of the hike, with some generous assistance along the way!
An experience like this, surrounded by likeminded people, is all the reason you need to become a ‘Friend of Metro Parks’.
“Friends of Metro Parks is a nonprofit, membership-based organization with a passion for supporting our Metro Parks through interactive activities, advocacy and fundraising.
We LOVE our Metro Parks… and we work hard to make sure these beautiful, natural spaces are LOVED and enjoyed for generations to come!”
There is a large house on the property, something of a rustic mansion, fallen into disrepair; plans for the house are to be determined. We are promised that it will not be turned into a large, upscale lodge, with limited access – this land is to be explored and enjoyed by all.
We pause, as a group, beside a large Oak tree, marked with a bright orange dot, spray-painted onto its trunk. The tree is marked with this splash of paint, along with any other trees that are 24 inches or larger, to designate it as one that will become timber. That was its fate, until Columbus Metro Parks acquired the land, saving these beautiful, old trees from being felled. This was a big save for Central Ohio’s natural lands!
Along with all the excitement of a group hike, there is time for personal reflection. The parks are important; the parks need support. In the end, the parks don’t exist without their Friends!
If you care about the parks like this one, vote YES for the Metro Parks levy! There is a real threat to these parks, from development, and from a situation in which admission is charged, to visit spaces that are now open to the public, free of charge.
Cast your vote!
A teen behind me notices a tree falling onto old wires overhead, along the edge of the property. She suggests that the tree is fighting back, against development, progress, and suburban invasion. She remarks that it’s as if the tree is saying “No, don’t build here!”
There are few places in Central Ohio left like this, remaining untouched. This makes the trees, the habitat, and the wildlife a truly unique combination. “This is a unicorn!” we are told, at the end of our hike. “The mature forest is a Unicorn!”
I’m not trying to eavesdrop – okay, maybe I am – but along the way, surrounded by the beauty of nature, and wondering what we’ll find just over the next rise in the landscape, my ears perk up when I hear:
“It’s like we’re zombie refugees, moving along to the next refugee camp, trekking through the forest, because all of the zombies are in the city!”
Join me on my next adventure,
Friends of Metro Parks (home page): http://metroparksfriends.wildapricot.org/
Friends of Metro Parks: http://www.metroparks.net/about-us/friends-metro-parks/
Columbus Metro Parks: http://www.metroparks.net/
Robin Hood & Little John: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSIhWr25yzc
Disney’s Robin Hood (Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcGU8OUXCDE
Spring Beauty (flower): https://www.google.com/search?q=spring+beauty+flower&tbm=isch&imgil=v9erb5FYuHI8kM%253A%253BNuNFYQjr4v2YlM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.ediblewildfood.com%25252Fspring-beauty.aspx&source=iu&pf=m&fir=v9erb5FYuHI8kM%253A%252CNuNFYQjr4v2YlM%252C_&usg=__EeRyN1bHoGtjW9fAXtAa7Tshn3g%3D&biw=1096&bih=672&ved=0ahUKEwj64Ou3lofTAhWCORQKHU80Cv0QyjcIPg&ei=tKrhWPq2B4LzUM_oqOgP#imgrc=v9erb5FYuHI8kM:&spf=191