Along the Natchez Trace

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hock-Hocking Rails to Trails Bike Path

Technically, this isn't "just" a bike path...
The Hock-Hocking Bike Path is a wonderful trail that years ago was the old railroad bed.  But the trains quit running.  The track was pulled up...  (hopefully recycled)...  and now there are 19 miles of flat, paved trail with no motorized traffic that runs along the Hocking River between Athens and Nelsonville, Ohio.  You'll come across walkers, bicyclists, roller-bladers and joggers and during the winter months, even cross-country skiers.

When we lived in Athens, Bill & I biked the trail frequently.  In fact, there is a "board of directors" that monitor the rules/maintenance/proposed changes for this trail and we were on that committee for a few years.

If we were going to be here longer, I'd take my bicycle into town to my son's house and leave it.  He lives less than a mile from the bike path and I would park the car and access the trail from his house.

But...  we're not sure how long we'll be here, so I haven't done that. As I've written (frequently), I love geocaching.
This past weekend a whole new series of caches were hidden along this bike path.  A DOZEN new hides!

Of course, I was chomping at the bit to get at them, so today, Bill & drove the car to one of the access roads and headed up the trail...
Bill's looking at the GPS....  we know we have about 3 miles to walk to find all of them.
Along the way, I kept seeing wonderful sights...
Like these mushrooms growing up this tree trunk...

And these shelf fungi...
Also called "artist fungi"... growing on this tree.
(you can etch with a sharp instrument and when the surface dries, you have a permanent picture)

I might mention here that I was once at student at the nearby college...  in the Recreation and Wildlife Program.
I wanted to be certified as a Naturalist...
As it happened, fate intervened and I had to drop out of that program before completion.

This was before the Bike Path was established, but even way back then, much of this area was used in the college's biology classes.

So all along, it's been an area that I'm familiar with...
From the Spring Wildflowers through the fall leaves...
The maples are glorious!

Do you know what a "pit and a pile" is?
A tree will be blown over...  uprooting the roots, which will have a fair amount of soil attached to them.  Then there will be a hump of roots and other organic matter... but at the base will be a hole that once was home of this root ball.  Eventually, the tree will decompose...  as will the root ball.  But what is left will be humped up into a ball-like mound.  As the base, the hole will eventually grow vegetation, but won't be so quick to fill in.  Hence...  the "pit and the pile".  

I think a tornado came through this area a year or so ago.  There is is still a lot of evidence of destruction.  

I found this very interesting...
This hornet's nest looks like it's horizontal instead of vertical.  
And it is!
Looking closer, it appears to have always been like this.
But I'm wondering if it was started in the usual way, but for some reason got built sideways.  I've never seen one like this before so found it particularly interesting.

I saw moss and lichen on rock formations...
This isn't the sphagnum moss of Maine, but a different kind.

And...  we came across this spring...
A torrent of water coming right out of the ground!
I looked at the sediment at the base of this...
sure enough...  red covered earth and rocks.
This area was heavily mined in years past...  the acid from the coal mines is still being leached from the soil and continues to make the water and earth acidic.

Tarzan...  Eat your heart out!

Look at the size of these grape vines!
I don't know how sturdy these are but most are bigger than my wrist, but what a massive jungle this appears to be!

I used to use fox grapes and other wild grapes to make jellies for the Farmer's Market, but never had to forage this far from our farm for them.

The "Hock" part of the name is from the Hocking River...
This river's headwater is about 70 miles north.  It starts as a small stream near Canal Winchester... meanders down through Franklin and Fairfield Counties...  into Hocking county...  then into Athens County...  finally dumps into the Ohio River at Hockingport, which is close to Washington County.  I've canoed all that is "canoe-able" in the past....  it can be an exciting trip, but since it's been "relocated" for highway construction, it's just not the trip it used to be.  With the lack of rain this summer, I don't know how much of it you could really navigate.  

The old railroad bed follows right alongside this river for many miles.

This "Rails to Trails" path is, indeed the old railroad bed...
In fact, the old "whistle stop" markets can still be seen alongside the trail...
Way back then...  when Bill & I were on the Bike Path Committee, I photographed all the concrete markers that were left along this trail. 
But that was before the days of GPS....
I don't know of what importance these have today, but to me, they are a part of history and the past.

After we'd found all twelve of the new geocaches that were hidden, we were walking the 3 or so miles back to our car.

We came across this group...
Hocking College uses this trail as a biology laboratory...
Of course I had to stop and see what was happening here....
These kids were taking a field test...
Their instructor told me they had to identify various trees.
I told him I'd gotten an "A" in my "Ohio Trees" class 37 years ago, so he asked me to identify the tree in question.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I flunked!
Maybe not so surprising because we've not lived in this area for so many years...  but..... still....  I should have known.
The instructor and I had the same teacher, who has since retired.

I loved my classes at Hocking College....
despite my lapse of memory today,
I still remember the scientific names of most of the trees that are indigenous to this area.

Bill & I headed back to the car...
Me, relishing the sound my feet made as they crunched through the fallen leaves on the path.

I don't know when we'll head south...
Next week?
But I can still smell that "woodsy" scent of mushrooms, moss, lichen, centuries old rocks and old, old trees...
And that smell of fallen leaves...

Honestly!  There's nothing quite like SE Ohio in the fall!

That's All For Today!


  1. Looks like a very nice trail to explore. Too bad it has to snow in that area.

  2. What a beautiful area! I can see why you love it so much.

  3. I am guessing this area is near Hocking Hills State Park. Ken and I went there with a photography group. I loved the waterfalls and the trails and Ken got lots of beautiful photos. SE Ohio is a very pretty area.

  4. You saw so many varied and wonderful sights! Those grapevines looked like some kind of forbidden forest.

  5. Your great enthusiasm for the outdoors comes through with every post. I love all your photos and comments!

  6. That area looks so damp and lush. I can smell the musty odor from here!

    I am sure that they recyled all of that rail steel. Very valuable stuff.


  7. So beatiful! I've never heard of artist's fungi. I want some! Sounds like fun.

  8. What a wonderful place to walk. Great pictures. The leaves around that spring are sure colorful. I love it when the leaves are dry and crunchy and you can walk through them and kick them and hear them crackle.

  9. Those grape vines could give a gal nightmares!

    What a lovely piece. I've only been to Ohio once, but I was so impressed with how friendly everyone was!

    Greetings from Minneapolis,