Webster Park History

Jeff Caswell of Friends of Webster Park

by Lucy Caswell

The area now known as the Webster Park subdivision was sold to Amason Webster (not “Amazon,” despite the street name) by the Rathbone heirs on May 29, 1846.  Webster’s daughter Orell inherited the land upon his death in 1900.  In 1909 she and her husband Lewis Legg subdivided the land, and the initial plat shows “Webster Park” at the 1.8 acre site now bounded by North Delta Drive, East Delta Drive, Webster Park Avenue and Olentangy Boulevard (the entire subdivision runs from High Street to Olentangy Boulevard, and from Erie Road to the edge of Whetstone Park).  

The City Bulletin of May 8, 1926 records the transfer of this park plot to the city: ”Whereas, the tract…has been preserved in its natural state and protected as a wild bird asylum and wild flower preserve and it is well suited and adapted for such purposes…the same is hereby set aside…as a wild bird asylum and wild flower preserve.   …The superintendent of parks…is hereby directed to maintain and protect the same as nearly as possible in its native state…”  Columbus Recreation and Parks Department is the city’s administrative unit responsible for Webster Park today.

The provision that the park must be maintained in its “native state” means that, insofar as possible, it should be left alone to allow the native species to follow their natural progression.  For example, naturally fallen trees in Webster Park remain where they land, to decay and provide shelter for small animals.  The city must provide special permission before any plants can be removed from or added to the park.  

For many years, neighbors kept the park litter-free by picking up refuse when they saw it and by organizing occasional clean-up days within the park.  In recent years, growth of invasive plants such as euonymus (wintercreeper), English ivy, Asian honeysuckles, and garlic mustard changed the ecosystem of the park significantly.   As a result, the volunteer group Friends of Webster Park was organized in 2005 to remove invasive plants under the supervision of the Recreation and Parks Department, and generally to protect and care for this natural area.  In 2014 the city’s Nature Preserve Advisory Council voted to name Webster Park as a Nature Preserve.

In the years since the Friends began work, the park has seen a resurgence of wildflowers that had been smothered by the groundcovers, many trees have been saved from damage by removing invasive vines, and the native bushes are thriving with less competition from honeysuckle.  One of the park’s outstanding features is the wetland on its west end, unique because it hosts one of Ohio’s very few stands of skunk cabbage.

Greenspace Planning for the Lower Olentangy Watershed

Thanks to a Columbus Foundation grant, FLOW will be creating maps that show current greenspace preservation in the Olentangy watershed. This will include conservation easements, parks, areas preserved by private landowners, and other natural spaces that have been specifically set aside for preservation. The project should be completed in about 18 months.

The Olentangy River and valley is well recognized locally and beyond for its significance. While notable efforts have occurred over time in preserving it, development continues to diminish its grandness and vitality. The more comprehensive mapping funded by the Columbus Foundation will acknowledge the notable efforts of many to date, as well as indicate possibilities to further the preservation of the stream and valley. Presently there is no one data source that maps all the known natural green spaces.

FLOW’s partner organizations are Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, Delaware County Regional Planning Commission, Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. They will work with the general public, public jurisdictions, and environmental organizations. GIS (Geographic Information Systems) will be used for mapping known preserved green spaces, as well as lack of preservation connectivity, and potential future linkages.

Area property owners will be invited to public meetings to receive information and give input. “The ripple effect of engaging people in the public process of preservation is huge,” notes Tom Ryther, FLOW member and project volunteer. “What is greenspace and why and how do we acquire it, where is it and how is it used? This includes little pockets of natural greenspace that are part of subdivisions’ homeowners’ associations, which will be included with those participating in the mapping and planning process”.

The expected further population growth here in Central Ohio and the Olentangy watershed gives FLOW this incentive to strengthen the preservation of this recognized and cherished landscape, now a historical remnant of that landscape that existed prior to contemporary growth.

Twenty Years of Progress

Celebration day, FLOW-style: FLOW and Anheuser-Busch folks started the day by planting a pollinator garden.

FLOW has now had twenty years of organizing, planning, planting, measuring and otherwise looking after the quality and safety of the Olentangy River.

You can see the results all around. Some of the important accomplishments:

  • Completing the Watershed Action Plan – only meant to be a five year plan, but still used today as a roadmap for the future. This entailed many meetings that got the community involved and connected with the river.
  • Improving water quality as a result of four dam removals.
  • Getting the Lower Olentangy Water Trail approved, which gives paddlers access points to the river and encourages enjoyment of the river and the natural areas around it.
  • Planting trees and native wildflowers all over the watershed, to provide habitat, reduce polluting runoff, and offer outdoor enjoyment for all.

It started in 1997 when Amanda Davey, just finishing at The Ohio State University, saw an article about watershed coordinators. She contacted the Ohio EPA and thus began the steps that formed Friends of the Lower Olentangy.

Using Amanda’s OSU contacts and Vince Mazika’s EPA contacts, the original email got an enormous response. They formalized the group as a 501c3 non-profit, set up a board of directors, put together a mission, and began monthly meetings with educational and business topics.

The early founders envisioned an organization that would be a clearinghouse for the river, and sustainable over the years. The decision was made to work together with partners rather than serve in an adversarial role.

“I am so impressed with what FLOW has done and how it has maintained itself, Amanda says. “The city uses the river as an asset now. The water quality is maintaining, which is good with all the development pressure up north.”

A grant allowed the group to hire Erin Miller as its first watershed coordinator. She served from 2000-2004, when the organizational foundations were established, membership was built, and the watershed plan was completed.

“Working for FLOW was one of the highlights of my career,” Erin says. “The board members are extremely involved, and always have been. They did GIS mapping, took photos that brought the river to life, helped with financial expertise.”

“It has always been a very reputable group, one that is science based and community focused. FLOW’s vision is for the community to be connected to an appreciative of the Olentangy River,” Erin explains.

Among the core group that started FLOW, and now enjoying the 20th anniversary: George Anderson, Joanne Leussig, Amanda Davey, Jennifer Fish, Russ Fish, Joe Motil.

Grow with the FLOW

 

One of the many ways we are aiming to enhance the health of the Olentangy Watershed is through campaigning for the planting of trees. Our goal is to partner with the Olentangy Watershed community and have everyone planting and caring for trees. We will do this by providing education, ensuring you live in the Olentangy Watershed, and offering free native trees and shrubs. Please go to the registration page by clicking here or by clicking “Grow with the FLOW” above. Registration is open through October 20th.

      

An great option for Columbus Residents living in Columbus is Branch Out’s Tree Give away on September 30th! Check out the link below!

Site Plan for Pollinators

Rusty Patched Bumblebee by Johanna James-Heinz.

We’ve heard it in the news, on social media, and through word of mouth that pollinator species have taken a hit. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee is on the endangered species list and many other bee populations are also in decline. Milkweed is wanted for monarchs and we can all do a little something to help out our pollinating friends. However, efforts on private property to incorporate pollinating species set off a few red alarms for county code inspectors. They are just doing their job when they chop down your beautifully planted pollinator patch and leave you bee-less and with a bill. This is because some species are seen as a fire hazard or are noted as “noxious weeds.” The city is changing their outlook on this code and is now acknowledging the use of pollinators as a horticultural improvement to your property. They do however, want to see that your garden is carefully planned. A site plan will help convince officers that the patch they see as “weeds” is actually an intentionally planted, cultivated, and cared for pollinator garden.

What Is It: A site plan is a document that details improvement specifications through drawing. It is a graphic representation of the buildings, parking, drives, landscaping, etc. of a development project. In terms of pollinator gardens, it should be detailed with specifications such as species and size. The links below will give you the tools to build your own personal site plan and cater it to your specific garden and its needs. If you receive a complaint that your garden is taller than 12 inches, you should call the Code Enforcement Division at 614-645-2202 and explain that your garden is intentionally cultivated and that you have a site plan.

Site Plan Instructions

Site Plan Building Tool