Five Rivers MetroParks aspires to get local community outside

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Local hiker enjoys scenic view of Hills and Dales.

Dayton’s local Five Rivers MetroParks has been taking strides in the growing hobby of outdoor recreation for years now. Their aspirations of connecting people to the outdoors are evolving as well. The primarily taxed-payed park system provides a surplus of opportunities to get outside. Whether it’s through volunteering to clean up a park or a hike through one of the scenic sections of Germantown MetroPark, park visitors can enjoy their encounter with the outdoors.

Amy Forstofel, Research Analysis Manager for MetroParks, believes more people should get outside and utilize the different facilities and programs they have to offer. “We have 19 different parks, 6 bikeways, and 8 conservation areas,” Forstofel said. There’s plenty of opportunities to go out and do something.

During the festivals that MetroParks hosts, park-goers have the chance to try some of the many recreational sports that have grown popular through out the past years. MetroParks’ largest event, the Wagner Subaru Experience normally hosted at Eastwood, is highly attended.

Around 20,000 people come each year to “not only enjoy festival activities like eating, drinking and listening to music, but they can actually do things. They can go kayaking, try mt. biking and there’s even fly fishing if you’d prefer that,” she said.

“There’s all kinds of activities you can do and there are competitions for people already familiar with the sport,” Forstofel said, “It’s really intended to get people engaged with the activities they can do at their Five Rivers MetroParks.”

Amongst other events, MetroParks hosts the Celtic festival, the Hispanic festival and the 4th of July fireworks at Riverscape. The goal is for the community to really get involved with new and different things while having a good time.

When MetroParks was first founded, “Their goal was to have everybody to be within 10 minutes of a MetroPark if you lived in the Dayton region,” Forstofel said. Now with almost 16,000 acres, 160 miles of trails and 25 facilities, their goal has been well achieved.

In response to this expanding world of urbanization, MetroParks has taken care to leave their land as untouched and unchanged as possible. “We have a mandate that 90% of our lands are kept in its natural state and that no more than 10% is ever developed on,” she said. Doing so provides the best chance of preservation for the plants and wildlife of Ohio’s ecosystem.

In recent months, MetroParks has been developing a 10 year comprehensive master plan. “We interviewed key stakeholders that have an invested interest in the community as well many park users,” Forstofel said.

“We had them take surveys to understand their perceptions of us and what they like about our park and what they wished our parks would do,” Forstofel said. “Essentially, we’re trying to find what we can do to make the parks better.”

Basically, her job is to understand the barriers to getting people outside and that currently MetroParks has been more focused on the younger generation and their interaction with nature.

“We have been particularly concerned in the past few years of young people not fully appreciating the parks and being as connected to nature as previous generations were because there are so many distractions for them in this digital age,” she said.

Thus MetroParks has been taking steps to better engage younger people because “it’s good for people to be outside and get away from their digital world and learn from nature and take some risks and explore,” Forstofel said.

Nathan Graham, local cyclist and avid park user, agrees. Graham, who has two daughters ages 2 and 4, thinks it’s good to get them to experience the outdoors. “I go to the parks regularly with the kids. It’s a great way to get some exercise and see something new,” Graham said.

He’s also very fond of what MetroParks is doing in the city. “I really appreciate what they do at Riverscape. Their downtown venues for free shows is really nice,” Graham said, “10 or 20 years ago there wasn’t much to do in the city and now we have music and food and different things to do.”

Forstofel really wants to emphasize that MetroParks provides more than just the cliché of how many people view a park system. “Sometimes a walk in the woods sounds really boring to some people,” she said, “but we’ve developed a lot of outdoor recreation opportunities that are more exciting, so that if that prospect of hiking doesn’t seem interesting, we say try a kayak, go mountain biking or fly fishing.”