Martha Coss plays with a dog named Sierra as, from left, Ricky Mingus, Sr., Ricky Mingus, Jr., and Brandi Steible, all of Sandusky, watch at Osborn Park in the Erie MetroParks.
Sticking close to home this summer? Short Stops will help steer readers toward day trips that won't burn the tank of gas. Short Stops will appear each Monday throughout the summer.
HURON, Ohio - Lace up the hiking shoes and bring a picnic basket, for the area's outdoor fun options extend beyond the stomach-churning thrills of a certain Sandusky amusement park.
The Erie MetroParks' 13 park areas feature myriad free and low-cost opportunities for summer activity-seekers of any age, including canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, nature walks, and ball playing.
The parks in Erie County also have some of the more unique local terrain, from the rugged trails of the 152-acre limestone Castalia Quarry Reserve, to the verdant banks of the Huron River within the Coupling Reserve in Milan.
All the parks are within reasonable driving distance from the Ohio Turnpike, and several are quite near each other.
It is estimated that several hundred thousand people use the metroparks each year, said Jane Gildenmeister, manager of visitor and employee services.
This year is the 40th anniversary for Erie MetroParks, which began as the Erie County Metropolitan Park District and took its present name in 1991.
The Schindley family of Huron, Ohio, enjoys Osborn Park. Erica Schindley, right, faces her daughter, Lauren, 3, while her husband, David, watches their son Mason, 1.
The taxpayer-supported park system has grown exponentially through the decades.
During its early years it was described as a "park system without parks" that functioned only on paper.
Its first park, the 172-acre Osborn Park in Huron Township, opened to the public in 1975 on the former site of the Osborn Prison Honor Farm where inmates raised livestock, potatoes, and corn for state correctional facilities from 1932 until 1973.
Considered the system's busiest, Osborn Park has an extensive children's playground, picnic shelters and grills, more than a dozen soccer fields, a tennis court, and grass baseball diamonds.
"It's a great way to get the kids outside and active, and enjoy the summer," said park visitor Erica Schindley of Huron, who last week accompanied her 1-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter to the playground.
The Perkins Avenue side of the park is encircled by a 1.1-mile crushed-stone trail that is popular among walkers and joggers. Those seeking shade-covered paths can find several well-maintained trails in the park's southeastern portion.
A much-awaited 2.5-acre dog park is scheduled to open by Labor Day in the park's south end near Hull Road.
Once, Osborn Park was also one of the few metroparks in the state with a public swimming pool. However, since 2005 the pool has been shuttered because of leaks.
That same year Erie County voters rejected a 0.25-mill levy that would have replaced the pool with a large aquatic center.
The expansive, 1,330-acre Edison Woods Preserve in Berlin Township features about 550 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of restored native grasslands.
There are 7 miles of woodland trail and 6 miles of perimeter pathway open for walking and horseback riding - although one must bring a horse.
For all their peace and tranquility, the metroparks have generated controversy.
Parks officials late last year closed the nearly seven-mile Huron River Greenway walking and cycling trail along the river following an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that the park district, in forming the trail, had illegally confiscated property from adjacent land owners.
The greenway follows a railroad built in the 1870s over the towpath of the Milan Canal, which extended from Milan north to the Huron River's mouth.
The railroad formally abandoned the tracks in 1989, and landowners have argued that the railroad reverted to its original property owners about three years later when the tracks were removed.
The state Supreme Court ruling came after more than a dozen rulings in lower state courts sided with the parks district.
The district is now negotiating potential compensation with the landowners for the trail land, and hopes to eventually reopen the greenway and complete its unfinished one-mile segment, Ms. Gildenmeister said.
"It will eventually open, we're just not sure when," she said.
The metroparks' 40th anniversary celebrations started in the spring and extend through fall at various parks.
From 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Osborn Park, there will be food, hayrides, games, and history presentations from past and present metroparks officials and supporters.
On Sept. 21, there will be an ice cream social and other hikes at Community Foundation Preserve and on Oct. 26, there will be hayrides and a campfire at Edison Woods Preserve.
Contact JC Reindl at: