By Christine Bryant
Visitors to Battelle Darby Creek want more animal encounters, hiking and biking programs, and better access to modern restrooms and running water.
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 Southwest Franklin County park. The plan also 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 each of the Metro Parks need improvement, as well as to garner ideas for what kinds of programs would draw more visitors.
The plan will serve as a guide for Metro Parks staff members, especially as they work on next year’s budget, said Peg Hanley, public information manager for Metro Parks.
“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,” Hanley said.
Encompassing more than 7,000 acres of forest, prairies and wetlands, Battelle Darby Creek stretches along the Big and Little Darby Creeks, both State and National Scenic Rivers.
There also are more than 1,600 acres of restored wetlands and prairies, and Bison roam freely within two enclosed pastures.
The bison are a major draw to the park, but staff said visitors often express the desire to have better viewing points – such as decks or overlooks – to see the creatures, Hanley said.
Of what needs the most immediate attention, visitors said better signage to help direct people to different areas of the park, updated restrooms that replace the current pit toilets offered in some areas, and additional or modified trails.
In particular, survey respondents expressed the desire to have a connection to Cedar Ridge from the Ohio to Erie Trail.
When asked how the park can better engage visitors, visitors who took part in the survey said they would like to see more canoeing, kayaking and winter activities offered. They also suggested more animal encounters, opportunities to escape into nature, and hiking and biking programs would increase the frequency they would come to the park.
Battelle Darby Creek staff, who played a significant role in reaching out to park visitors and by offering their own opinions, said there also is a need for additional staff, an upgraded maintenance facility, more advertising and technology enhancements.
The survey also allows parks staff to look into the community’s desire to have access to more land or trails down the road, Hanley said.
“This helps us figure out when we are on the ballot in 2019 what our constituents want us to do more of,” she said.
Each year, more than eight 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.
In fact, Hanley said overall attendance in July increased by 36 percent.
Because Scioto Grove Metro Park opened in May of this year, it was not part of the survey, Hanley said. The survey can be viewed in its entirety at metroparks.net under the “About Us” tab.