Pioneer entreprenuer Matthew Hueston and his younger brother, Thomas, are the namesakes of Hueston Woods. By the ripe old age of 30, Matthew had already conquered the wild Ohio frontier, having trapped and traded furs, owned and lost two general stores (one in Cincinnati and the other in Greenville), and worked as a cattle driver from Cincinnati to Detroit. In the early 1790s, Matthew hung up his cowboy hat and served under General "Mad Anthony" Wayne on his march through Miami Indian territory that ultimately ended in the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville. While Matthew was marching with Wayne’s army through Preble and Butler counties to make war, his brother Thomas was making pacts with local Indians for the brothers’ first land purchase, sealing the deal with the customary puff on a peace pipe.
By 1801, the Hueston brothers owned 2,600 acres in Butler County, along with a plot in Preble County and land in neighboring Indiana. Thomas served as the primary manager and caretaker of the brothers’ land holdings. While Thomas brought food to the table, Matthew was busy adding more careers to his resume. By the time of his death in 1847 at the age of 76, Matthew had served as Justice of the Peace for two local townships, sat on the board of directors of a bank, served as a Butler County commissioner, and owned and operated a tavern in Fairfield Township. The Huestons’ farm was probably never short of hands; Thomas raised eight children here, and Matthew fathered a family of nine.
In the Huestons’ day, aspiring farmers literally had to carve their homesteads and farm fields from the dense primeval forests of the Ohio wilderness. In an era when the forest was viewed more as an impediment to be conquered than a resource to be protected, the Huestons balanced the creation of farmland with the conservation of forest land. They spared the trees and accepted the great gift of the sugar maples—sweet sap that could be collected and boiled down to produce maple syrup. Thomas Hueston gave his son, William, and his wife, Mary, a chunk of the family property that included what we know today as the Big Woods. This 200-acre stand of old growth American Beech-Sugar Maple forest has been declared a National Natural Landmark, as well as a state nature preserve. William and successive generations of Huestons tapped these trees to make life just a little sweeter.
This time-honored tradition of maple sugaring as the sap begins to rise in late winter is still celebrated each year during Hueston Woods’ Maple Syrup Festival. The Big Woods is transformed into the "sugar bush" as park staff collect and concentrate maple sap using historic and modern methods. (The Big Woods trees may be tapped several times without damage, provided that each new hole is drilled in a new location and previously drilled holes are allowed to heal.) Just outside the Big Woods, the park’s Pioneer Farm Museum offers a glimpse of what life was like on an 1830s-era Ohio farm. The historic farm house features authentically white-washed plaster walls and period furniture, courtesy of the Oxford Museum Association. The antique barn is also furnished with period tools, gadgets and farm implements. Tours of the farm museum are offered by the Oxford Museum Association most summer weekends and for special events.
Another proud tradition at Hueston Woods is the Raptor Rehabilitation Center. For more than 30 years, the center has been taking in injured or orphaned birds of prey for professional care, recovery and eventual release. Volunteer veterinarians mend the feathers, and park staff, assisted by the Hueston Woods Student Naturalist Club, provide tender loving care for 60 to 80 injured birds of prey each year. Birds whose injuries are too extensive to lead a normal life in the wild become permanent residents of the center. These resident birds earn their keep by becoming teachers, playing the starring role in educational programs at the park and accompanying their human companions on outreach missions to local schools, nursing homes and community groups.
Raptors aren’t the only wild creatures in the Hueston Woods menagerie. The Hueston Woods Nature Center offers displays of live snakes and turtles, and provides a home for other injured or orphaned critters. One of the nature center’s most popular four-legged residents is Coug, a playful young mountain lion (also known as cougar, puma or panther) weighing in at 190 pounds. Coug’s story is a lesson in what happens when those adorable wild babies adopted by humans grow up to be powerful adults. Because he has been declawed and has imprinted on humans, Coug must spend the rest of his life behind bars. Interpretive programs featuring Coug illustrate the plight of wild animals trapped in the "civilized" human environment.
Hueston Woods State Park offers even more to love than excellent programs and facilities for savoring the area’s rich natural history and cultural heritage. The park also boasts outstanding recreational facilities in gorgeous rolling hills within an hour’s drive southwest from Dayton or northwest from Cincinnati. Resort facilities include a scenic 18-hole championship golf course, newly renovated family vacation cottages and an impressive resort lodge. Campers can pitch a tent or park an RV on one of 255 campsites with electrical hookups or 236 non-electric sites. Rent-A-Camp sites offer an exciting option for first-time campers or seasoned folks who prefer to leave the gear at home. Out and about in the park, there are ten miles of nature trails, six miles of bridle trails, and 12 miles of top-notch mountain bike trails offering fun and excitement for beginners as well as challenges for experienced riders. Scenic 625-acre Acton Lake offers a sand swimming beach, along with quiet coves for canoeing and sailing as well as open stretches for motor boating with a 10 horsepower limit. A marina offers fuel, supplies, boat rental and seasonal dock rental. Crappie fishing is great, and hunting is permitted in season in designated areas.
In 1995, a new Raptor Rehabilitation Center facility was built in partnership with the Miami University Rowing Club, an anonymous donor, and the park staff. One side of the 4,100-square-foot building serves as an animal hospital, while the other side houses the crew team’s 56-foot-long, eight-person rowing sculls. The new facility can accommodate as many as 20 birds simultaneously in a secluded recovery room designed for minimal stimulus with no windows, 12-inch-thick walls for noise control and insulation, and carefully controlled temperature and light conditions.
With the advantage of an ideal storage facility near its practice site on Acton Lake, the Miami University rowing club has grown to a nationally competitive organization, with the women’s team consistently ranking near the top, nationally. The sight of the students shouldering their sculls, launching in the early morning mist and gliding silently through the water with synchronized strokes is truly inspiring. Hueston Woods is proud of this unique partnership which has brought together the power and beauty of the hawk and the streamlined grace of the sculls for the benefit of both and the delight of park visitors.