Looking for something truly unique in Ohios great outdoors? The Muskingum River Parkway
certainly fills that bill. Winding through the scenic hill country of southeast Ohio, the parkway blends history and natural beauty to provide visitors with an experience unlike any found elsewhere in the state.
A journey along the Muskingum River (and its parkway) is a trip back in time. A century and a half ago, the Muskingum bustled with paddlewheelers and barges, carrying people and goods to the new states and territories of the Midwest. A system of ten hand-operated navigational locks and ten dams, designed by Major Samuel Curtis and promoted by Ohio pioneer Rufus Putnam, acted like a stairway for boats moving up and down the fast-flowing river. Once the locks and dams were built, the river became navigable from Marietta to the terminus of the Ohio & Erie Canal at Dresden in Muskingum County. Curtis' navigation system, completed in 1841, enabled boats to move easily from the Ohio River, through the heart of the state and up to Lake Erie.
That historic lock-and-dam system, so revolutionary in the 1800s, is still in place today, enabling recreational boaters to travel the same watery highway as their pioneering ancestors. This summer, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated the Muskingum River's locks and dams as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Plaques commemorating the designation are now in place at each lock site. Other American landmarks that share the designation include the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) maintains the locks and dams, which together form Americas oldest navigation system of its kind still in operation. More than 7,000 boats "locked through" the river's 112-mile navigation system last year. The dams create "pools" on the river that are several miles long. Their associated locks are chambers where water is added or released to float boats around the dams.
The lock chambers still have their old wooden gates, their original sandstone walls and most of their hand-operated equipment. Pontoon boats, houseboats, canoes, rowboats and power boats with unlimited horsepower move through the system with equal ease. But a trip of any length on the river involves some planning. And boaters are urged to call the parkway office for the latest river and lock conditions before starting out.
Towns along the parkway welcome visitors with restaurants, shops and lodging. A primitive campground is located at Lock 11 near Ellis in Muskingum County. Eight primitive campsites (reserved only for boaters) are located at Lock 5 in Washington County.
Rare fish such as sanddarters, northern madtoms, mooneyes and channel darters share the water of the Muskingum with record-size shovelhead catfish. The river also supports Ohio's last populations of certain rare mussels, including monkeyface shell, fan shell, Ohio pigtoe and the butterfly shell.
For more information on the nationally recognized Muskingum River Parkway, call the parkway office at (740) 674-4794 or 1-800-BUCKEYE.