From the Left



Hiking the Trails and Honoring My Roots in Hocking Hills State Park

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

"For every park, there's a story of someone who saved it from becoming something else." Ever since I read these words in Jenny Odell's book "How to Do Nothing," I've wanted to find the stories of such people.

I love parks, and I love all that they bring to our lives. So when my Aunt Mary suggested we go hiking in one of her favorite spots during a recent visit, I immediately wanted to know how this favorite trail of hers was preserved for us to enjoy. The trail? Cantwell Cliffs in Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio.

With Odell's declaration in my brain, I started looking for the park's origin story. What I found was not necessarily an individual but instead the movement of the late 1800s that championed the preservation of forest lands and helped establish our nation's first state parks.

John A. Warder was a Cincinnati, Ohio, physician who helped establish the American Forestry Association in 1875. The first American Forestry Congress was held in Cincinnati, and it kick-started the state association that played a major role in legislation establishing the Ohio State Forestry Bureau. This was pretty progressive for its day. Ohio was one of the first states to have a forestry program along with California, Colorado and New York. The Bureau allowed for a paid staff member to survey and assess the forests of Ohio and their major cause of destruction. This effort along with grassroots organizations throughout the state were later given a boost by President Theodore Roosevelt's interest in the first few years of the 1900s.

The Weeks Law of 1911 established collaboration for national forests in the eastern United States. But it was the new concept of state-owned forest parks in the 1920s that would place certain areas that were usually of geologic interest in public ownership for both preservation and public use. And according to the Department of Forestry's "A Legacy of Stewardship" publication, Hocking Hills State Park was Ohio's first such place. It was acquired in 1924.


For this, I am extremely grateful. Hiking through these rock formations with my family, we bear witness to the millions of years the sediment holds. It is nothing short of spiritual. I am also hyperaware that the land did not belong to us when we trod across it. Preserving these beautiful areas also gives us an opportunity to honor that horrific past. The Shawnee, Delaware, and Wyandot tribes lived in Hocking Hills in the 1600s and 1700s, but they are no more. We cannot have gratitude for the incredible spaces to hike without having pause for the lives taken and cultures destroyed in the process. These truths are also part of our roots.

All of that history lay at our feet while hiking the 2-mile trail with some of the people I love most in this world. I marveled at rock formations with my 8-year-old son and challenged my physical limits while learning even more about myself, my family and the land we so often take for granted.


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