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.

For more information, visit

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Pause at tiger exhibit while prowling around Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Chimpanzees have always been my favorite attraction at the zoo because their humanlike qualities make me contemplate life as we know it. Recently, though, I’ve become captivated by tigers – Amur tigers to be exact.

Three of them are on display at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium near the suburb of Dublin, and I’ve gotten to know them better thanks to a family zoo pass that we purchased. Our family has visited the zoo several times this year, giving us varying views of the tigers. Each time these prowling felines put on an amazing show, simply by being themselves, with a beauty and grace not seen in most other animals.

In February, we saw one tiger peacefully lying atop its cement cave during a snowstorm. Another time we watched one pace about its enclosure through a pane of glass. Its massive body slinked by us, a hands-length away. It looked me in the eye, sending a chill up my spine.

The Columbus Zoo is a great place to visit because of encounters such as these. Recently the USA Travel Guide named it the No. 1 zoo in the country. A lot of the publicity comes courtesy of Jungle Jack Hanna, the director emeritus whose many public appearances through the years have propelled the zoo into the national spotlight.

But let’s not forget the animals.

The Columbus Zoo has one male tiger, named Foli, and two females, named Kisa and Irisa. Foli is Kisa’s brother, and he’s been at the zoo since the Asia Quest exhibit opened in 2006. The males can weigh up to 800 pounds, making them the largest tigers in the world.

Amur tigers come from the forests of Eastern Russia, northeastern China and the northern regions of North Korea.

“These forests can look like jungles in the summer, but they become very cold and snowy in the winter,” says Patty Peters, who works in promotions at the zoo. “Its large paws help it cross the snow, as though it’s wearing snowshoes.”

Whether rain, shine or snow, I like to think that these tigers and I are becoming fast friends.

For more information, visit

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