The goal? Be the first to spot a Bald Eagle. However, once we arrived at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, all bets were off. Instead, the boys were attracted to the mammoth rock – a 35-foot-outdoor climbing wall, with three towers; the largest free outdoor climbing wall in the United States. But without our own ropes and gear, the boys simply watched the the local firefighters suit up for a climb.
While an Audubon Wetland preserve may be the last place you’d think of to take an active family of four boys – it's actually the perfect spot to get them outdoors to blow off some steam.
Bonus? Before they realize what's happened, they've learned something about nature.
This Audubon park, 505 W. Whittier St., is just a 10-minute walk from downtown Columbus -- a 120-acre stretch that attracts more species of birds than any other stretch along the Scioto River – including Bald Eagles, and is one of Ohio's great migratory stops.
You could drive to the park, but you can also arrive via the Scioto Greenway Trail, a two-mile trail that travels through Bicentennial Park, the downtown riverfront, The Santa Maria, COSI, Dodge Park, with a trailhead at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, at the park's entrance.
For years, this area was filled with an auto impound lot and a few factories. In 2009, The National Audubon Society worked with the city and Franklin county to wipe out all traces of industry. What's left are open prairies, and seven wetland “cells.”
Don’t let all of this talk about nature preservation fool you into picturing the park as a “sanctuary" with a hush-hush ambiance. The park is bursting with activity options. Just a few feet away from the climbing wall, are two Olympic-sized volleyball courts (bring your own ball.) Yet, the kids say the best feature is Neos, the electronic system that combines video games with real-live action.
A water tower observation deck gives a view of the downtown skyline, the Scioto River, and the dogs who are trying to make their way through the park’s “dog obstacle course.” There are two: one for small and one for large dogs. You can even fish here, too.
Bring your gear and head to one of the elevated docks, or bring your boat and launch it right there.
The birds are not fazed in the least by all the commotion, and are thriving here. During our two-hour visit, we saw herons, sand pipers, wood ducks, mocking birds, blue-winged teal, pied-billed grebe, turtles and toads – but no Eagles. If you’re unsure of the name of a creature, park rangers can help identify what you’re looking at. Show up on any Saturday or Sunday, from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m., and you can hike with an educator through the park -- no charge.
The Grange Center, with its shaded observation deck, includes a firepit, rocking chairs and benches, and is the perfect spot to count the birds at the feeders. Inside, a skylight lets the sun shine onto a sundial embedded in the lobby floor.
Right now, registration is just beginning for the 2012 Audubon Adventure Camps. The park is open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. April through September; and 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. October through March. There is no admission charge to the park or the center, but donations are appreciated.