Preservation Parks of Delaware County is seeking a supplemental 0.4 mill ten year levy. If passed, it would generate about $3.7 million annually. This would enable the park district to add five new parks to the existing eleven, and double the current 1,106 protected acres.
The cost to property owners: $14 annually per $100,000 in property market value. That’s 4 cents a day. A great investment to support a return that will reap benefits now, and for many generations to come.
Although Delaware County is mid-sized among Ohio’s 88 counties, its population is becoming outsized. The county is the fastest growing in the state, and now ranks 13th in population size with 215,000 people. Union County to the west is #2 in growth, and Franklin to the south is #4.
Central Ohio is a hotbed of growth, and tangential with that development should come conservation and parks planning.
I met Tom Curtin, the executive director of Preservation Parks, on a recent fine fall day to tour some of their targeted acquisitions. We rendezvoused at Shale Hollow Park. This gem of a place is rich in geology, and lies 6.5 miles north of I-270 on U.S. Route 23. Anyone who drives the 23 corridor between Worthington and Delaware knows firsthand the pace of development in this region.
We headed northeast to a property featuring high quality wetlands near Sunbury. After a short hike through forested land, we burst into a “Category 3” wetland. This is the highest quality wetland, according to standards set by the Ohio EPA.
The wetlands – there are several on this property – are botanical paradises sure to stop botanists in their tracks. I was pleased to see lush stands of hairy-fruited sedge (Carex trichocarpa). While the elegant sedge has a decidedly non-sexy name, it is finicky about where it grows and is often a companion of other unusual plants.
Sure enough, we soon found other notable vegetable matter. Dozens of swamp lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata) carpeted one wet patch. This interesting semi-parasitic plant thrives in springy wetlands and is rare and local in Ohio. As far as I know, this plant – like the aforementioned sedge – was not previously known in Delaware County.
Our botanical finale was a patch of bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). The stunning tubular flowers are cobalt blue, and pollinated exclusively by bumblebees.
This site would make a superb land lab for student research, as well as an interesting immersion into the world of wetlands for hikers.
Lastly, Tom showed me lands along the Olentangy River, not far south of where U.S. Route 23 and State Route 315 meet. Lush forested slopes stretched from the uplands to the east down to the river. Protection of land along the Olentangy River – one of only 15 Ohio streams awarded official Scenic River status – is critical.
One of the riverfront landowners, Barbara and George Melvin, want to see their family farm conserved. They view the park district as a capable steward of their property and are working with Preservation Parks to ensure their property’s protection.
The accompanying photo of the Olentangy River was taken just downstream from the Melvin’s property. In addition to its aesthetic qualities, the stream harbors a bounty of aquatic animal life, including American rubyspot damselflies, belted kingfishers, smallmouth bass and much more.
It was also near this spot that, in autumn of 1832, pioneer botanist John Leonard Riddell discovered a stunning and previously unknown plant. He named it Aster oolentangiensis – sky-blue aster - the epithet commemorating the river where he found it.
Of Delaware County’s 457 square miles, only 1% is protected by the county’s land conservation agency, Preservation Parks. Passage of the levy will allow for much-needed expansion of green space in a region where development far outstrips land protection.