By Christine Bryant
Visitors to Blacklick Woods want more trails and programs, updated restrooms and improved shelter space.
That’s according to a new comprehensive survey released by Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks that examines what visitors and staff want from the park, and forms a strategic plan for the remainder of this year and beyond.
During the past year, staff and polling professionals reached out to visitors, more than 600 registered voters and fellow park officials to examine what areas of the parks need improvement and to garner ideas for what kinds of programs would likely draw more visitors.
The plan will serve as a guide for Metro Parks staff members, especially as they work on next year’s budget.
“What we are trying to do is figure out ways to get new people to our parks – to increase visitation – and by polling the people who are our park visitors, what areas need attention,” said Peg Hanley, public information manager for Metro Parks.
Blacklick Woods, located off East Livingston Avenue, is a popular destination for Reynoldsburg residents and visitors, drawing thousands each year to its 643 acres of wood, fields, seasonal swamp ponds and prairies.
It’s also home to a 235-acre public golf course in which 40 acres are natural area – a place where the parks system boasts both birds and birdies peacefully co-exist.
Audubon International has certified the golf courses as a Cooperative Sanctuary for their comprehensive environmental management and protection of wildlife habitats.
According to the survey, visitors responded that viewing wildlife and escaping into nature are top reasons they visit the golf course, while those visiting the park area come for running and walking opportunities, as well as viewing wildlife and biking excursions.
When asked how the parks systems can better engage visitors, respondents answered by offering more activities, such as concerts, hayrides and movies. They also said they’d be more likely to visit at a higher frequency if more opportunities such as animal encounters, adventure-based activities and special events were offered.
Blacklick Woods staff, who played a significant role in reaching out to park visitors and by offering their own opinions, said specific areas of the park that need improvement include updating restrooms, enhancing technology and providing a better pet trail.
One staff member in the survey said as the oldest park in the district, staff members incur constant maintenance issues with old facilities and utilities. Another staff member offered the suggestion of increasing access to wireless Internet, as well as displaying scan codes that provide information to visitors throughout the park.
Others mentioned the connectivity to the Greenway Trails as an issue, with one staff member citing the gap between the Pickerington Ponds’ section of the Greenway Trail and the Blacklick Woods’ section. Another suggested completing the Greenway under Refugee Road and paving half the trail from the nature center to the Ash Grove section of the park.
“We haven’t done our budget yet for 2017, so we don’t know if we will have the funds,” Hanley said. “But they’ll look at these results when helping determine the budget.”
The survey also allows parks staff to look into the community’s desire to have access to more land or trails down the road.
“This helps us figure out when we are on the ballot in 2019 what our constituents want us to do more of,” Hanley said.
Each year, more than 8 million visit one of the 19 Metro Parks. Staff has set the goal of increasing that number to 10 million, and with the explosion in popularity of the Pokemon Go game, this year’s numbers already are on the rise. Hanley said overall attendance in July increased by 36 percent, with Blacklick Woods seeing an increase of 15 percent.