It’s always interesting to revisit places you think you know so well and be surprised. Since leaving Columbus, Ohio, 22 years ago, most of my surprises have involved getting lost in the expanding collection of freeway off-ramps and shopping complexes. Every time I returned home it seemed a new sub-division was sprouting up complete with it’s own golf course, high school and local mega-plex. 20 screens per family must be a new record for central Ohio. Well, a couple of weeks ago I was walking through a marshy wilderness only a couple miles from where I grew up. This wilderness, the newly opened Audubon Center, was recently a brownfield site, and before that a warehouse district tucked into a curve of the Scioto River. (The city’s largest impound lot still sits next door, though that is slated for relocation.) Now it is 600 acres of winding trails, playgrounds, and rock climbing walls scattered through native trees, grasses, and the meandering Scioto. Most impressive are the 2 bald eagle nests, countless other bird species, and the LEED Gold visitor center complete with energetic birders who love to share their knowledge.
It’s surprising I had to be reminded, but Columbus sits at the confluence of two rivers. Two rivers that had long been covered with freeways and train tracks by the time I came around. Now the 600 acres is planned to be stitched into 1300, creating an emerald necklace of park lands, bike paths and hiking trails. Here on the East coast I’ve gotten accustomed to the regeneration of our waterfronts, from Baltimore to Boston. It’s surprising and downright exciting, to see a Midwestern hometown do the same. The river is back. The birds are following. And us humans seem to like it.