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The Hocking Hills is a state park located in Hocking County, just outside the city of Logan, Ohio. The park, which is housed within the Hocking Forest, consists of 25 miles of hiking trails and is known for its dramatic hills and rock formations. Visitors are often drawn to this park because of its rocky cliffs, overhangs, waterfalls, and hemlock lined gorges. The property includes six individual, yet sometimes connected, parks: Old Man's Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Cantwell Cliffs, Rock House, and Whispering Cave/Hemlock Bridge. There are also two nature preserves in the area: Conkle's Hollow and Rock Bridge.

Old Man's Cave

Water, Water resources, Fluvial landforms of streams, Natural landscape

Conkle's Hollow

Plant community, Plant, Sky, Natural landscape

Ash Cave

Water, Plant, Ecoregion, Natural landscape

Cedar Falls

Water, Water resources, Ecoregion, Sky

The Hocking Hills State Park features one of the most unique landscapes in Ohio. With its dramatic waterfalls, rock walls, and gorges, it is no wonder why the area has historically been a draw for locals and tourists alike. It is an exceptional example of the natural beauty of Southeast Ohio. Unlike the rest of the state which was flattened, smoothed and covered in a decent coat of sediment about 280 million years ago, the area of Southeast Ohio was unglaciated. It was spared from the massive ice sheets that dominated the rest of the state, and because of this, the landscape is defined by its hills. The multilevel nature of the land and accompanying rock formations are unique to the Hocking Hills region and were predominately formed naturally by streams and other water features that eroded away the Black Hand Sandstone prevalent in the area (Rizzuto, 12).

The area that comprises the Hocking Hills State Park had been, quite consistently, a popular and important place for gatherings. The remnants of large piles of ash, as well as the presence of soot along the inside walls of rock formations, point to the presence of groups that have used this as a gathering space over the past couple hundred years. (Ash cave is one of the more notable examples of where this human influence has been found.) The Adena people were most likely the first group to inhabit the region. There is strong evidence that in more recent history, the rock shelters and overhangs were used by Native American tribes like the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware who were the predominant inhabitants of this region preceding the influx of predominately white settlers that moved into the region beginning in the early 1800s. 

The inflow of foreigners from the East who eventually settled in what would be known as Hocking County, saw this region as a land full of possibilities, especially where it concerned natural resources. There was both a deep appreciation for the natural beauty and resources of the land as well as an understanding of its utility. As with many other parts of the United States, the eventual negative impact of local industry (clay, coal, timber, salt, iron) on the land became very apparent, and by the late 1800s spurred not only local but statewide legislation that would seek to protect land from becoming over exploited from these extractive industries. 

By the early 1900s, what would later be known as the conservation movement was in full swing and the interest in public parks was growing nationally. Americans wanted to take part in these public land initiatives. On the whole, they had leisure time and increased mobility due to the automobile. While national parks were harder to access and were mostly concentrated in the West, the creation of state parks became an attractive option (Rizzuto, 27). 

Much of the land in Southeast Ohio that would eventually make up the Hocking Hills, was held in private hands during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It wasn’t until after the National Conference on State Parks in 1921, and the subsequent state legislature that followed, that land in Hocking county would be set aside for public use (Rizzuto, 60). This was mainly seen in the form of the new Hocking Hills State Forest. The parks area would not officially be termed a state park until the land fell under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1949 upon the ODNR’s creation. Within the Forward of A Legacy of Stewardship, the former director of the ODNR, Robert W. Teater (1975-1983) states that, “While the genes of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources emerged from many agencies, the real body was born in 1949 from a monoecious parent, Amended Senate Bill 13. Shrewdly designed with wisdom of the times and vision for the future, Amended Senate Bill 13 has been Ohio’s ‘Constitution for Resource Management’” (King, xiii).

The ODNR, as steward of Ohio’s natural resources, was set with the task of both preserving the natural landscape and also expanding services and outreach for the future. In 1949 it was “charged with the responsibility of formulating and putting into execution a long-term comprehensive plan for the development and wise use of the natural resources of the state, to the end that the health, happiness and wholesome enjoyment of life of the people of Ohio may be further encouraged” (ODNR). These sentiments are still echoed in their mission: “To ensure a balance between the wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all.” Like the mission of the National Parks Service, the ODNR has quite a task, to both manage resources for the betterment of the local environmental by preserving the existing landscape, as well as provide the facilities and curate the spaces so that people may also access the parks and find enjoyment. As with all public land management, finding a balance is doable, but can be a challenge to achieve. 

One of the lesser known histories of the Hocking Hills region is the prison honor camp that was located near Conkle’s Hollow off of state route 374. Prison honor camps were designed to house prisoners of lesser misdemeanors who were seen as trustworthy. In 1950, honor camps were built in “Hueston Woods, Lake Hope, and Hocking Hills State Park under supervision of the Ohio Board of Corrections to relieve overcrowding of the Ohio Penitentiary. This program enabled ODNR to participate in an additional phase of conservation- the conservation of human resources- and the productive work accomplished by these men resulted in improved public facilities in the State Parks. The camps assisted work programs by providing work crews to do work which would not otherwise have been financed” (Gebhart and Presas, King, ed., 108). This project was headed by A.W. Marion, director of the State Department of Natural Resources at the time. “Men in the honor camps were put to work on outside jobs that would not otherwise get done. They maintained roads in state forests, cleared underbrush and planted trees.” Since the park system could not afford to hire people under normal circumstances, this “cost effective” means of labor became the only way the parks system could maintain its parks (Gray, Logan Daily).

According to Gray of the Logan Daily, the Hocking Honor Camp “was under supervision of the Ohio Penitentiary from 1950 to 1968. In 1968, the camp was transferred to the supervision of the Chillicothe Correctional Institution until its close in 1974.” Interestingly enough, the Logan (and wider) communities and the inmates were closer than one might think. Inmates were sometimes “granted permission to fish without licenses,” and they also were called upon to help fight fires in the more rural parts of the county. “Another activity that brought communities and offenders together was softball” (Gray, Logan Daily). The honor camp formed their own team, the Hurricanes, and played against other local teams in the region. 

From its creation up until the present day, the Hocking Hills State Park has, and continues to be, an amenity for both local communities as well as those farther afield. While it provides so much for visitors, there are behind the scene conservation efforts continuously underway to mitigate high use of the trails along with threats in the form of invasive species. The challenge at the moment is the presence of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect native to east Asia, which poses serious risk to the Hemlocks populations in the park (Herman, WOUB). Who knows, in twenty years time, the Hocking Hills may look a whole lot different.

Gray, Leslie. “Honor Camp remembered.” Logan Daily (Logan), Dec. 31, 2011.

Herman, Tessa. "Hocking Hills Forests Under Threat by Fuzzy Bug." WOUB, Dec. 14. 2017.

King, Charles C. Editor. A Legacy of Stewardship: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources 1949-1989. Dec. 1990.

ODNR. “History and Purpose.” Ohio department of Natural Resources.

Raymore, Karen. “Taking the Scenic Route.” Logan Daily (Logan), June 25, 2015.

Rizzuto, Carolyn. “Hocking Hills State Park: A Look at State Park Development.” Master’s thesis, Ohio University, 2006. 

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