COLUMBUS, OH -- Horsemen seek them for unbridled escape. Mushroom hunters stalk their depths in search of flavorful fungi. Hunters and anglers probe their remote corners for prized game and fish. And backpackers scale their scenic ridges to savor landscapes once known only to Native Americans.
They are 20 of Ohio's most special natural places - its state forests, managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for recreational opportunities and forest products.
From Maumee State Forest in the north to Shawnee State Forest in the far south, Ohio's state forests offer a full spectrum of recreational activities - some of which are not available in state parks, preserves and wildlife areas.
Outdoor enthusiasts sought Ohio's state forests last year for a wide array of great recreational opportunities, said John Dorka, chief of ODNR's Division of Forestry. Some came to picnic, hike, bird watch and fish. Others came for more rigorous activities such as rock-climbing, hunting and trail riding.
Since 1916, the state has worked to restore its ecologically important forested areas. In many cases, these areas had been stripped bare of tree cover and were suffering from severe erosion. ODNR foresters planted millions of tree seedlings to help revitalize these woodlands. Originally, some areas were designated as testing grounds for growing various tree species. Later purchases were acquired for their recreational and scenic values, as well. Today, there are about 184,000 acres of state forests under careful management by the ODNR Division of Forestry.
HIKING, BACKPACKING AND CAMPING
Hiking trails are a feature of virtually every state forest. Many of these trails incorporate former logging roads and fire lanes with the narrower forest paths to provide a variety of experiences for hikers. State forest trails offer spectacular natural vistas, and some encompass unique historical sites. At Zaleski, Scioto Trail, Richland Furnace and Pike state forests, hikers encounter remnants of southern Ohio's colorful past, including Native American mounds and trail systems, and abandoned iron-ore furnaces that date from the Civil War era.
The vast 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County is home to the state's only designated wilderness area (8,000 acres) and adjacent 8,000-acre backcountry management area. Portions of a 60-mile backpack trail traverse these roadless areas. Segments of the North Country and Buckeye trails wind through the forest, which is renown for its wildlife viewing opportunities and breath-taking Appalachian panoramas.
Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County is another favored backpacking destination, with a less-demanding 23-mile backpack trail that begins near the old "Hope Furnace" and circles through some of the state's most productive forested wildlife management.
Beginning backpackers can hone their backcountry skills at the "park and pack" trail in Mohican-Memorial State Forest in Ashland County. It's a short half-mile trek from the parking lot to the camping area, allowing novice backpackers to sample the experience in less-challenging surroundings.
Camping is an outdoor activity enjoyed by more then 16,000 visitors to state forests last year. Family campgrounds at Harrison and Fernwood state forests in eastern Ohio offer campsites suitable for tents or campers, latrines, fire rings, picnic tables and garbage cans. Hunters' camps are a popular spring and fall feature of Zaleski and Shawnee state forests. There are no camping fees in state forest campgrounds.
Ohio's growing number of birdwatchers find state forests excellent locations for viewing everything from hawks, owls and wild turkeys to several varieties of woodpeckers. Neo-tropical migratory songbirds are especially attracted to the age diversity of the managed state forest stands.
More than 350 miles of bridle trails in 13 state forests beckoned nearly 20,000 horseback riding enthusiasts last year. State forests lie in some of Ohio's most challenging and beautiful natural terrain where horsemen can ride worry free - away from both private property and motorized traffic. Five southern and southeastern forests - Zaleski, Tar Hollow, Shawnee, Hocking and Harrison- also offer primitive horsemen's campgrounds with all the amenities of the family campgrounds, as well as ample trailer parking and hitching posts/tie rails for horses.
APV RIDING AND SNOWMOBILING
All-terrain motorized vehicles less than 48-inches wide are welcome on 39 miles of designated trails at Pike, Perry and Richland Furnace state forests in southern Ohio and Maumee State Forest in northern Ohio.
More than 7,000 riders tackled the rugged trails in these four forests last year with their off-road motorcycles, trail bikes and four-wheelers. During the winter months when the snow cover is sufficient, snowmobilers flock to designated trails at Maumee and Mohican-Memorial state forests.
Non-motorized mountain bikes are permitted on all APV trails in state forests and on the bridle trails at Scioto Trail State Forest in Ross County and Mohican-Memorial State Forest.
HUNTING AND FISHING
Hunting and fishing are permitted in all 20 state forests. Some of the more popular ones for hunting include Beaver Creek, Yellow Creek, Gifford, Harrison, Shade River, Shawnee, Tar Hollow and Zaleski state forests in eastern and southern Ohio. The variety of young, middle-aged and mature forests, brought on by long-term forest management practices, has produced a wealth of habitat for many wildlife species. More than 20,000 hunters stalked wild game, including white-tailed deer, turkey, grouse, pheasant and rabbit, in these woods last year.
ROCK CLIMBING AND RAPPELLING
Hocking State Forest in Hocking County is home to nearly a mile of cliff face, rising almost 100 feet high. More than 500 climbers and rappellers scaled the sheer sandstone last year, including members of the Ohio National Guard, who use the area for training purposes. Climbers do not need to obtain a permit, however they are asked to fill out a special sign-in sheet.
TARGET SHOOTING AND DOG TRAINING
Public shooting ranges at Fernwood, Harrison and Zaleski state forests allow marksmen to improve their firearm skills in a safe and secure environment. Ranges are open daily from a half hour before daylight until a half hour after sunset.
A hunting dog training area at Maumee State Forest is also open to the public year round.
Morel mushrooms grow in abundance in most of Ohio's state forests. Among the best mushroom-hunting grounds are the 12,000-acre Brush Creek State Forest in Adams County and the 16,120-acre Tar Hollow State Forest in Ross County, where mushroom hunters comb the hills in late spring in search of the tasty morsels. Harvesting of berries and mushrooms is permitted in all state forests.
We are proud that through wise forest management we are producing healthy trees, providing quality forest products and offering Ohioans a variety of recreational opportunities, said Dorka.
For additional news online, check out the ODNR Press Room at Ohiodnr.com
For Further Information Contact:
Jane Beathard, ODNR Media Relations
Bill Schultz, ODNR Division of Forestry