Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter Woods Walk

The first winter storm of the year swept into the Ohio valley with a vengeance last night.  When I got up this morning I found all covered in a blanket of white.  Most people moan and groan and complain that they're not ready for the cold. Not me I love the changing seasons and planned my day to get out and enjoy it.

I thought about cross country skiing but the ground is still a bit soft in places and the snow was very heavy and wet. Sometimes those conditions can make skiing more of pain when the slushy stuff sticks to the bottoms of my boards. So I just put on my pack boots and decided to go for a walk.

I tossed my camera in my backpack as I always do but with the gray stark scenery I didn't figure I would get any nice shots.  

To my surprise though, after a half hour into my hike the storm clouds abruptly cleared out from the west and an intense sunshine electrified my surroundings.  It was really amazing like a light switch had been thrown.

The Clear Fork went from cold steely gray to deep blue.  Truly a vibrant contrast to earlier in the day.  I spent a few hours in the woods enjoying the day and our first winter snowfall.  Once again I'm glad I threw in the camera.  It always seems the good shots come around when they're not expected but today I was ready.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dysart Woods

Eureka Timberland
 A useful tool I've found for exploring my home state is the Ohio Atlas & Gazetteer by Delorme.  I was looking at this book the other day and I noticed a place listed in the directory of Unique Nature Features called Dysart Woods.  I'm always interested in visiting unique places so I mentioned it to The RoadQueen. The main logistical problem we would have to accommodate is the roughly three hour drive to the location in southeast Ohio not far from Wheeling, West Virginia.

With such a long drive the outing was more than I wanted to deal with in a one day trip so The RoadQueen got busy with planning the route, Inventorying and staging the camping gear.  I decided to use the opportunity to field test a new tent I bought that is much smaller and lighter than my other tent.  My old dome tent was worn out and not doing much good at keeping out rain so it was time to for replacement.  

I've pictured the Cabela's Extreme Weather Tent in this blog that I use for extended trips and Field Day operations in amateur radio.  That is an awesome tent but at nearly 80 pounds it's not the most convenient for small car camping. In the future I plan on doing more solo bike adventures and also tagging along with The RoadQueen to some of her horseman's camps so I needed a good small weatherproof shelter that's easy to move and quick to set up.  

Instead of a new dome I settled on a more traditional A-frame style tent by Eureka called the Timberline Outfitter.  It's not a backpacker by any means at ten pounds but the tent does have a long and favorable reputation among the Boy Scouts of America.  If it holds up to the intense use of the Scouts I'm sure it will more than suffice for my occasional outings. 

We chose Barkcamp State Park as our base of operations which is only a few miles north of Dysart Woods.  We left Friday after I got home from work and arrived at the State Park at Dusk leaving just enough time to set up our camp.  The skies were overcast and it began to sprinkle as we assembled our gear and slowly shifted to a light rain as the evening progressed.  Nothing like a steady all night rain to test a new piece of gear and I'm happy to report the Timberline passed its trial by fire perfect.  We slept dry and comfortable on our cots and found the interior of the tent dry the next morning.     

The sun was out first thing and quickly dried up the surroundings from the previous night's showers.  I absolutely love camping in the state parks after the summer season comes to a close.  Park use drops significantly and we were one of only a handful of campers utilizing the place.  Also the changing leaves of autumn make it one of the best times of the year to spend some time outside.

Here's a piece of gear I've been using for a while now at my camp for brewing coffee in the morning. It is called a French Press and in my opinion makes the best cup o' joe out there.

After breakfast we left the state park and made a short trip along secondary routes and quiet country roads of Belmont County towards our objective Dysart Woods.  

I've found all parts of Ohio to be varied and beautiful but I always love returning to the hills of southeast Ohio.  Following the signs we shortly pulled up along this house that once belonged to the Dysart family who lived on this land for several generations.  What makes this place unique is that the family managed to keep a 50-acre tract of their land as untouched forest never allowing logging or other destructive land use to occur.  The result of this today is the largest known remnant of original old growth oak forest in southeastern Ohio.

Ohio University in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy has taken on the responsibility of maintaining and conserving this special natural resource.  OU uses the forest as a natural laboratory for researching and studying the dynamics of a mature oak ecosystem.  As an added benefit the public is encouraged to visit the park and walk its foot trails that wind among the forest giants some as old as 400 years.

Up the road a bit from the farmhouse we entered the woods and pulled into a marked parking area where we found a kiosk and a trail map to guide us along the two mile loop.

It was a chilly morning and the air was fresh and clean but soon the sun was warming things up and casting down its golden light into the forest.  We couldn't have asked for a better day for walk in the woods.

Just into the walk the surroundings looked like any other deciduous forest except for every so often when we came upon huge trees towering far above the trail.

Here's a white oak giant whose branches don't even start until well above the lesser trees of the understory.  I couldn't help but just stand there in awe of  this living thing that has existed since before the USA was even established. 

Size is not always an exact indicator of great age.  The mass of a tree can vary due to species and local conditions.  Here is me in the frame for scale. These are some massive trees.

The trail map we found at the trail head outlined some of the characteristics that indicate that a forest may be "Old-growth".  We were able to observe many of these criterion on our hike.  Here long ago a tree fell over and heaved up its root mass leaving a pit.  Slowly the root ball decayed and the soil remained in a mound.  This is called Pit and Mound Topography. 

Standing dead timber and downed logs are also definite clues of an old growth forest.  We saw lots of  dead trees standing easily a hundred feet into the air and many laying on the forest floor in various stages of decomposition.

The cycle of life and dependency of one kind of organism on the other was evident everywhere. To me it never gets old wandering around in the woods and witnessing with my own eyes the wonder of nature.

At one point the trail led us along an open hillside on the edge of the forest where we could look out to the surrounding hills.  It is hard to imagine that at one time most of the eastern U.S. was covered with endless forest.

Other trees we noted in the woods were plentiful maples and huge beech trees with their smooth gray bark. Cherry, black walnut, hickory and tulip trees also thrive in the area.

Above is another characteristic of an old growth tree.  Notice the at the base of the tree how the trunk widens out.  This is called the buttress.  A mature tree needs a sturdy base to remain in place.  Imagine the forces of wind during a storm that act upon a 140' tall tree.

I've not yet made it out west to see the great redwood forests but until then I think I can safely say these old boys are the oldest living things I've had the good fortune to meet in my short time on this Earth.

On the way back from Dysart Woods we toured a bit more of picturesque Belmont County. 

Arriving back at camp we got busy getting a fire going in preparation for a steak dinner and campfire potatoes cooked over an open hardwood fire.  We enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing and admiring the golden sunlight and colorful leaves around the campground. And later as night fell we stoked up our fire watched the stars come out and a three-quarter moon slowly raise up clearing the trees while a pack of coyotes yipped and howled in the distance.

Camping is a lot of work and it takes a bit of preparation to make it work smoothly but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.  Spending a few days and nights outside of four walls and a roof cleanses the spirit and recharges the batteries like nothing I've ever found.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

One-Room School House - Chatfield Township - Crawford County

Earlier this summer while headed up north to a festival I spotted a lone brick building sitting off in a bean field by itself.  Although it was a good ways off the three large windows on the side were the recognizable feature that gave away this building's original purpose.  I made a quick mental note of the location and the RoadQueen and I planned a motorcycle ride recently to return to the area and get a closer look at the latest schoolhouse find.

As with many old schoolhouses built in the late 19th century an agreement was struck between the local government and the landholder to allow a small plot to be set aside for the construction of the school.  Once the school systems were consolidated the original smaller schoolhouses reverted back to the original property owner to do with what he wished.

As we walked around and surveyed the state of the building we noted a nearby farm just to the south.  Barns and the farmhouse are just visible in the background of the picture above.

Eventually we may have drawn the attention of the farmer because soon we noticed a pickup truck cruising up the lane to where we had left our motorbikes.  When he turned onto the road and started coming our way we walked out to meet the driver.  We introduced ourselves and expressed our interest in the old schoolhouse.  This was the fourth generation landowner of the nearby farm and by default the schoolhouse.  

He seemed pleased to find that we cared enough to stop and look so he shared a cool story with us.  His Grandfather actually went to school in the building when he was a boy! Needless to say the RoadQueen and I were impressed.  The farmer also said that next spring they planned to move the dirt pile out of the way of the front entrance and do some basic cleaning up and maintenance to the structure.  He invited us back when they have it open for look inside.  We told him we would definitely take up his offer. 

Here's a good shot of the original soffit. All solid wood; there was no such thing as exterior grade plywood in those days.

The schoolhouse is in pretty good shape thanks to the sturdy standing seam metal roof.  The only trouble spots I could find was above the front door where the span proved too great allowing the unsupported masonry to sag and the mortar to develop cracks.

On our way up to the site we took the State highway but planned to circle around using back roads on our way back.  I've found that in less populated rural areas where there's one schoolhouse chances are another one might be nearby.

Sure enough four miles to the south we spotted another schoolhouse on a corner of two country roads.  Right away I saw a stone lintel above the upper window.  Even from a distance I could see the stone was carved.  Great! I thought it's always nice to find an intact date plaque for these old buildings.

The offset door is something I often see on these old schoolhouses. Originally the front entrance was only a man door.  Later someone enlarged the opening by knocking out bricks on only one side and leaving the left side of the jamb intact.

Looks like an old rain gutter bracket. On the other side of this wall would have been the chalkboard.

Walking around the site was easy thanks to the well kept lawn surrounding the building.  We also noticed the owners had recently patched up some problem areas in the masonry.

It was nice to add a couple new schoolhouses to my little collection and especially heartening to see conservation work being done to preserve these unique pieces of American history.

Check out other 19th century Ohio schoolhouses by clicking the label below.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Recumbent Ride - Heart of Ohio Trail

Last week a reader named Dave from Columbus mentioned that he had recently been riding on the Heart of Ohio Trail that runs from Centerburg, northeast to Mt. Vernon.  I know a trail that runs into Mt. Vernon but it's on the other side and it has a different name.  I've been riding the Kokosing Gap Trail for a few years and it is one of my favorites.  

Kokosing Gap Trail 2 1/2 miles east of Mt. Vernon
 I had no idea there was another rail trail in the Mt. Vernon area.  Thanks Dave!  As much as I love the Kokosing it's only 13 miles long end to end. I always start at Mt. Vernon and ride to the far end then back for a total of 26 miles.  While always a relaxing and scenic ride at 26 miles it's just a little more than a warm up when riding my recumbent bike so often I'm hesitant to make the hour long trip by car to get to the trail head.  

It seems that with every passing year I am growing less and less fond of sharing the roads with ever increasing car traffic and their inattentive drivers.  So in order to find solace and safety on the rail trail I'm willing to accept a bit of four-wheeled purgatory to get there.  Now with the discovery of a second trail radiating out from Mt. Vernon the thought of combining the two resulting in a 50 mile day makes the drive much more worth it. 

Yesterday I decided to give it go and motored to the small town of Danville that is the eastern terminus of the Kokosing Gap Trail.  From there I'd ride west to Mt. Vernon covering trail I'd been up and down many times for a warm up before going into adventure mode once I located the beginning of the HOOT trail.

I used the map on my smart phone to help navigate a couple miles of suburban streets across the southern end of Mt. Vernon and shortly I found the trail.  The map showed the trail starting right where I was but new looking trail pavement headed east back towards the center of Mt. Vernon so I decided I would explore that way on the return trip. 

As it shows in the opening picture I only had to pedal about a hundred feet and I was back in the shady peacefulness of the trees starting my first journey on the Heart of Ohio Trail.  I love exploring new trails where I've never been.  It's fun to see what's along the way.  After a mile or two the trees opened up and I saw this 1/4 mile drag strip. 

The HOOT trail follows a portion of the Cleveland, Mt. Vernon & Columbus Railroad and a few examples of its old iron is all that is left besides the grade itself. 

These bridges cross Dry Creek several times Although it didn't look particularly dry when I passed over.

This one had an active hornet's nest attached so I didn't hang around too long.

Before I got on down the trail I did notice this plant growing on the railing with its interesting spiny seedpods.  Not sure what it is.

The HOOT trail shot straight as an arrow for long stretches sharing the valley with State Route 36 and passed picturesque small farms and woodlands.

Another clue that a railroad once existed; glass telegraph insulators.  There was quite a few rotting poles along the trail but the pins were all bare except for this one which I'm sure is the one Dave mentioned in his comment.

 Eventually I pulled into Centerburg and the end of the paved trail.  Centerburg has its name because it actually is the geographic center of the state.  

On longer rides I carry a small snack to refuel at the half way point.  Some salty pretzels and a little can of Coke hit the spot.  One of the greatest things about cycling is how good food seems to taste both during and afterwords. I relaxed and finished my snack under the shade of a tree in a park before saddling up for the return trip.

When I was still a few miles out from Mt. Vernon while checking for traffic at a cross road I noticed this old brick building mostly obscured by trees.  I hadn't noticed it on the way out so I turned around and pedaled up to investigate.


As I got closer I could see the structure was most definitely abandoned and in a sad state of disrepair.

I could tell it was an institution of some kind as I did a walk around of the grounds. Later I learned the place was known as the Knox County Poorhouse. First a residence for the county's less fortunate and later served as an infirmary and even a bible college before being abandoned for good.

Here is the best information I could find with a quick search:

In the 1912 "Past and Present of Knox County Ohio" Volume 1 on Page 80, the section on The Knox County Infirmary in part reads:  "from an early date (Knox County) had charity and compassion on its unfortunate poor. In 1842, the county commissioners bought 132 acres in southwest corner of Liberty township as its first poor farm. In 1874, it became necessary to provide better quarters for the poor of the county due to an increase in the number of poor. After several difficulties, the new building was completed in 1877. The institution is located on section 2, Liberty township, on a beautiful elevation of ground on the south side of Dry Creek, near Bangs Station along the line of the Cleveland, Mt. Vernon & Columbus railway. The original building is 75 by 127 feet, with an open court in the rear 34 by 55 feet. It is four stories high with a tower rising 65 feet above the roof. Over one million bricks were used in the construction. It has three water tanks on the upper floor holding 40 barrels of water each. The building was heated by steam throughout. There were 100 good rooms, accommodating easily 125 inmates. The tax-payers of Knox county have ever cared for her soldiers and other unfortunate citizens." 

Structural damage and decay is happening to several sections of the building.

At the rear of the house is this huge chimney which must have vented an incinerator or the steam boiler.  On the northwest corner of the structure I found a marble plaque with the date of construction and the county officials behind the project.

I'm glad I happened upon the place and was able to have a look around and take a few pictures. Like so much of Ohio's earlier architecture I think this place's existence is drawing to a close.

I rolled back towards Mt. Vernon and passed the point where I started on the HOOT and kept riding east.  This section of the trail was very new having been just recently paved.  I passed by an old industrial area where a large factory complex once stood. All that was left was a couple smaller building frames and this huge smokestack.

The trail eventually came to an end where it intersected an active train track running perpendicular to the old line.  Across the tracks I spotted the Mt. Vernon Station.  The trail section in my photo ends at State Route 13 just before the old iron bridge in the background.  Eventually the trail will continue on and link up with the Kokosing Gap Trail. 

Cyclists and other trail users in Knox County have a real prize in their midst with these two trails.

Kokosing Gap Trail - Heart of Ohio Trail
Bike:  HP Velotechnik Street Machine
Ride Time:  4:04:54
Distance:  55.69 Miles
Average Speed:  13.6 mph