Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, (or just a couple months) it was cold as shit, and therefore the excitement of the great outdoors was the stuff of legends. Now it’s the summer, but you’re still bored and cooped up inside, likely due to a lack of creativity or sense of adventure. Only the Park Bender: Master of all four elements, can save you from the encroaching summer monotony. Some may not associate the word “adventure” with central Ohio. However, from the vantage point of a well-trained lifetime Columbus local with 21 years of expeditionary experience, there are boundless adventures awaiting in your backyard if you’re willing to look a little beyond campus boundaries. Franklin County is host to 19 Metro Parks with more than 230 miles of trails chock full of enough water, earth, fire and air to have you feeling like Aang, the last airbender. Harness all the elements and you may gain access to ancient magical abilities. Or, at least the ability to make your less adventurous couch potato roommate feel like a lazy P.O.S. This month we journeyed to a couple of the most charming Metro Parks within reasonable distance from campus, as well as a couple other gorgeous Columbus staples in order to get reacquainted with our natural roots.
SCIOTO AUDUBON PARK
Standing atop the rust-red water tower that sticks out of the 120-acre oasis at the Scioto Audubon Center like a Google Maps pin makes you finally understand Aang’s dramatic gaze off into the distance whenever he perches on rooftops to overlook the city he’s supposed to save. Sprawling with nature, Scioto Audubon is an earthly reprieve from the industry found in the heart of the city, and the activities there closely resemble Aang’s entire fun-loving, free-spirited nature. The versatile park is a breath of fresh air in more ways than one, offering an obstacle course, ten miles of trails, an inventive playground space for children, and a dog park. If climbing the water tower to get a 360-degree view that includes the iconic LeVeque Tower and the Scioto River in the turn of your head is too mundane for you, the park hosts an outdoor rock climbing wall that beckons for your innermost exploratory skills to be put to the test. So get to bird watching, sand volleyballing, hiking, or whatever the hell else you could possibly aspire to do in the outdoors, because literally all of it is within the realm of possibility at the Scioto Audubon Center.
INNISWOOD METRO GARDENS
If you’re weird like me, you spent a couple of your younger formative years volunteering at the breathtaking Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville, hence you are familiar with all of its splendorous ebbs, flows, nooks and crannies. But you’re probably not, so listen the fuck up. (Sorry to go all Toph on you. Even though we never heard her drop the f-bomb she’s totally that type.) If the Scioto Audubon reminds you just how beautiful nature can be due to its close proximity to our industrial reality, Inniswood is an immersive experience that makes you altogether forget about the hustle and bustle of your everyday city slickery. About a 20-minute drive from campus, you’d be hard- pressed to find a more impressive exhibition of flowers and wetlands. Think the outdoors is monotonous? The park is home to more than 2,000 species of plants, most of which are bursting with color. Many of the vivid flower and plant ensembles are crafted around elegant man-made arch ways and gazebo structures that present picturesque backdrops for an enchanted photo op. Think Toph when she gets that absolute glow-up in Ba-Sing-Sei. That could be you. With the same loveable ruggedness. You won’t find a better location for a free outdoor adventure date this summer, and believe me, if it has worked for me, it will work for you.
SCIOTO MILE/PADDLE DOWN THE MILE
Ah, the Scioto Mile. If I hadn’t already used the word “picturesque” in this piece, I’d gladly drop it right here in reverential description of this symbolic victory lap for Columbus. Neighboring downtown’s most grandiose sky-scrapers, the Scioto Mile undoubtedly exists for the purpose of providing a site for onlookers to gawk at the beauty of the Capital City. Use Katara’s preferred method of transportation exploring the city you call home: walk the mile, eat at Milestone 229, and take a selfie with the deer on Rich Street Bridge. But you can get even more out of the experience. The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department offers Paddle Down the Mile, an urban canoeing and kayaking tour that gives patrons a chance to explore the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers all-hands-on-deck. If that sounds like biting off more than you can chew, never fear, your tour guide will go over safety and paddling techniques to ensure any potential struggle will be minimized, so embody Katara’s fast-learning nature and give it a go. Let OSU student Susie Mignogna tell you from first hand experience, “I’ve lived in Columbus for four years and I’ve never appreciated how cool the city is! From the river every building looked bigger and more spectacular, and it was awesome being able to contrast the cityscape while spending time in nature. Our only recommendation that could’ve made the experience any better would be to provide alcohol!” Take the classic college kid within out to play and follow-up a Saturday brunch with this sweet city river tour.
FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY
If your fiery youthful passion and the burning hot sunny summer blaze aren’t enough HEAT to keep you satisfied for the next few months, the Franklin Park Conservatory on Broad Street has you covered. What is summer if not a chance to take advantage of your dad’s skills on the grill back home for a good old-fashioned cookout? But if your father banished you from the entire fire nation because of one little fight, leave your parents in the dust and grill out with your nearest and dearest Columbus brethren at the Wells Barn venue at the back end of the park. With enough homespun allure to reenact Little House on the Prairie, the Wells Barn offers four acres of gardens, fountains, and an expansive outdoor dining area with wooden chairs and tables. The space is equipped with fireplaces where you could cook, or simply enjoy the comfort of the hearth, forgetting that you are only about ten minutes away from campus and not kicking your feet up in the countryside. Picture that time we all started feeling for Zuko on a personal level, sitting around a beach campfire with old friends. At just $19 a person to reserve the space, this could be a perfect alternative summer gathering place for your frat bros, sorority, or any friends looking to spend an evening doing something less predictable than going to Midway.
Photos by Amal Saeed