Metro park pleases families and birds

Whittier Peninsula was never a place to take your kids. For decades, the 160-acre tract of land located south of downtown Columbus was a mangled mess of junked cars, buried trash and sewer water.

But things are different now – thanks in part to the birds that annually migrate through the Scioto River headland.

Nesting herons and dozens of other species of native Ohio birds inspired Columbus, Franklin County Metro Parks and the Ohio chapter of the National Audubon Society to reclaim the land that was once a city dump. They transformed it into the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, a 72-acre urban playground with walking trails, a picnic area and bird-watching decks, and a 35-foot outdoor climbing wall.

The park’s centerpiece is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, which opened this summer at 505 W. Whittier St. The state-of-the-art building, made possible by a $4 million gift from Grange Insurance, features a 200-seat auditorium, classrooms for nature-based learning and an observation room with birding books and binoculars for viewing birds. The 18,000 square-foot center also meets LEED certification, so it’s ecologically sustainable, too.

The center offers hands-on educational programs, said to be a valuable resource for the nearby urban schools. Students will learn bird banding, data collection and mathematical analysis while observing the weather, plants and wildlife.

The center also offers a variety of public programs based on community suggestions such as urban stargazing, bat watching, nature photography, canoe trips and family movie nights.

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