Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 21, 2012

Hocking Hills: Nature's beauty spot


CNHI

— Like some hearty outdoor recreation while on vacation but prefer it tempered with a touch of tasteful sophistication? Then you’d probably feel at home in Ohio’s Hocking Hills.

This beautiful area in southeastern Ohio is known for its high cliffs and narrow gorges, including Conkle’s Hollow, only 100 feet wide in places and considered by some to be the state’s deepest gorge.

Home to Hocking Hills State Park, the area has plenty of hiking trails, a resource I took advantage of when I met with park naturalist Patrick Quackenbush at the entrance to Old Man’s Cave Gorge.

As we made our way along the trail to the cave, Quackenbush shared his knowledge of the flora along the way, and I listened with rapt attention as he told me fascinating things about plants I’d barely paid attention to before.

The most popular of Hocking Hills State Park’s six areas, Old Man’s Cave is named for hermit Richard Rowe, who lived in the massive recessed cave after his family moved to the area around 1796.

Native Americans who took advantage of its welcoming shelter preceded Rowe by centuries.

After reaching the cave, perfect for a photo shoot, we hiked past the Upper Falls and continued up the trail to the hard rock surface on top where the view was as incredible as it was lofty.

A number of naturalist-led tours, including owl prowls, evening lantern hikes, canoe excursions and wildlife walks are offered throughout the summer. For more information phone 740-385-6842.

On my way to the Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, I stopped at the Welcome Center, which maintains the world’s only known pencil sharpener museum. The Reverend Paul Johnson started collecting 20 years ago and has since amassed a trove of more than 3,400 pencil sharpeners, reputed to be the largest in the world.

After Johnson’s death in 2010, his widow agreed to move the collection to the Welcome Center, located at 13178 State Route 664 South in Logan, where they’re now more accessible to the public. No two of the sharpeners are alike, and the variety of models - everything from Disney figures and toy automobiles to space age figures, cats, even a Santa, an Eiffel Tower and a wooden crank phone sharpener.

Ironically, none of the sharpeners have ever been used to sharpen a pencil!

If you’d like to see more of Hocking Hills beauty from a lofty height, the Hocking Hills Canopy Tours started operating in 2008 and take adventure seekers on an adrenaline pumping excursion over 10 ziplines, five sky bridges and a rappel finale that has you descend from a platform high in a tree via a long rope.

For even more thrills, the operation added a quarter-mile long super zip in 2010 that launches two zippers at a time, side-by-side, off an 85-foot tall tower. They’ve also added sunrise, sunset and night flight tours for a different take on the zip experience.

After a day spent outdoors, I was delighted to check in to a cozy cottage at the Inn at Cedar Falls, a green certified hostelry that also offers overnight stays in lodge rooms and 1840s style log cabins.

While I could have taken one of the rejuvenating Spa treatments at the inn’s secluded log cabin retreat, I opted instead for a leisurely walk around the grounds that allowed me to check out the new roof-top garden and the newly installed bee skeps.

The inn is surrounded by Hocking Hills State Park and sits on 75 acres of property that innkeeper Ellen Grinsfelder likes to maintain as a haven of peace and tranquility. After working up an appetite hiking the grounds, I headed for the inn’s restaurant, ensconced in two original, connected (and charming) log cabins.

Chef Anthony Schulz, a grad of New York’s French Culinary Institute, prepares gourmet meals in the inn’s open kitchen, changes the menu seasonally and uses fresh ingredients, many of them locally grown. He also leads special in-house cooking classes and wine and spirits dinners. Phone 800-653-2557 or innatcedarfalls.com.

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Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at owlscribe@yahoo.com.

If You’re Going . . .

For more information on the Hocking Hills, phone 800- HOCKING (462-5464) or 1800hocking.com.

For a place to dine, lunch or dinner at the Rocky Boots Grill will give you a chance to shop Rocky Boots large inventory of outdoor gear displayed on two floors and tour the Nelsonville Historic Square before or after your meal. Definitely a casual place that fits in with the Rocky Boots experience, the menu has a nice selection of healthy choices, a salad bar, hot and cold sandwiches and, my personal favorite, a bison burger. Phone 740-753-3130, ext. 2329.