There used to be so many of them, at least by the evidence of old maps. Strung south of Stimmel Ave and the Greenlawn cemetery were a series of large quarries that were mined for limestone and gravel. Old birding accounts speak of them as bird oases, as do some old CBC notes. Now there’s only one left, along Hart Road west of Harmon Rd.
I spent several days this Spring nosing around the Greenlawn and Frank Rd area, looking for waterfowl and unusual winter strays. One cold February day, the Scioto River was high and fast from recent snowmelt, so most of its waterfowl were likely to be in side ponds. Haul Rd and its manicured old quarries had proven mostly a bust, with only a few ducks and gulls. But Hart Rd turned into a bird gold-mine, with big flocks of diving ducks – mostly Redhead and Ring-necks. The steep walls of the quarry seemed to trap a temperature inversion, since the water in this quarry was unfrozen, unlike the more exposed quarries along Haul Rd. This open water was undoubtedly a big attraction for these birds.
Quarries were a big feature for much of Columbus’ history. Much of Columbus sits over a big layer of limestone, with some glacial moraine and soil over the top of it. Our quarries were famous for sand, gravel, and limestone. Although we didn’t produce the high-quality marble that you associated with some other quarries, our limestone did form much of the structural face for local landmarks like the LeVeque Tower and Ohio Stadium. Our quarries have a long history (e.g. http://www.columbusrailroads.com/new/?menu=06Industry&submenu=05Marble%20Cliff%20Quarry) , and were so much a part of the local economy that there were even promotional videos about their significance.
Two weeks later, in early March, the quarry lake still had good birds, with some Shovelers, Coots, and Hooded Mergansers, along with more Ring-necks and a pair of Mute Swans. A flock of Ring-billed gulls was floating on the surface and sitting about on a small ice shelf, and a few Bonaparte’s gulls flapped over the still water. Robins and Starlings were flocking in the bushed along Hart Rd, but little singing was occurring on this cold morning.
Quarrying is not a static industry, but moves around as one quarry ‘plays out’, becoming economically less productive, while newer quarries open up. The Marble Cliff Company started out just west of downtown, then moved out along the Scioto to Watermark Lake and the Marble Cliff Area, before moving yet again above Trabue Ave. Other companies south of downtown started out around the Greenlawn cemetery before moving south, first to the Haul Rd area, then further south to around the Scioto and I-270. What happens to the old quarries? That depends on where they sit. The quarries up by Marble Cliff and Upper Arlington were re-developed into unusual residential communities like Hidden Lakes and Limestone Pointe. Campbell Mound Quarry is being used by the Water Department as a dump for filtering sludge from the Dublin Road Water Treatment Plant. Quarries south of Greenlawn became repositories for demolition waste and fill; in fact, a few of these quarries are now small hills of dirt and fill, looming over the surrounding floodplain!
By early April, the diving ducks were mostly gone, except for pairs of Ring-necks and Ruddy Ducks. A few migrating Horned Grebes had dropped in, as well as 20+ American Coots. The pair of Mute Swans now were looking more and more like residents, bossing around several pairs of Canada Geese that were squabbling over shoreline territories around the quarry edge. The surrounding scrubland was now alive with the songs of Robins, Song Sparrows, and Chickadees, while small groups of grackles commuted overhead.
What’s the future for Hart Road Quarry? As wild a spot as it is, it’s hard to see it not eventually being used as a construction waste dump, given the continual need to cheaply dump waste from Columbus’ construction industry. It’s a shame, too, since it ties in with nearby Whims ditch to form a tiny, semi-wild water basin in this part of Columbus. If water overflow from the ditch —which has a history of flooding the neighborhood— could be directed into the quarry as a holding basin, the surrounding area could be saved quite a bit of flooding. This flooding may even have been exacerbated by the filling of the nearby quarries. Wildlife could also be given a refuge in a part of Columbus that has precious little greenspace.