From atop the gorge in the warmth of the sun, the winding ribbon of whitewater looks inviting, even placid. Descending nearly 500 feet to the valley floor, the illusion of stillness is broken as the rushing sound of churning rapids grows stronger. A quick glimpse of tawny fur may be a wary red fox, a distant dark object--is it moving?--maybe a black bear--or perhaps just a tree trunk. A sudden sensation of cool moist air drifts past. The sandstone walls of the gorge close in. The trees here look different; the feathery leaves of the hemlock and the parchment wrapped trunk of yellow birch stand apart. The floor of the deep river valley is framed by the glossy dark jade leaves and delicate flowers of mountain laurel. At last the destination is reached. Little Beaver Creek is swift and wild, a force of nature that is as beautiful as it is powerful.
Beaver Creek State Park in Columbiana County is a 3,038-acre wilderness escape with a dramatic river gorge, breathtaking vistas, sandstone cliffs, sparkling streams and deep forest that is home to a rich variety of plants and wildlife. The park's spectacular scenery also provides a haven for active outdoor recreation, adventure and exploration of the region's rich and unique natural and cultural heritage. Stretches of Little Beaver Creek were designated Wild River and Scenic River by the state of Ohio in 1974 and, in 1975, 33 miles of Little Beaver Creek, including the portion that flows through the park, was designated a National Scenic River. Little Beaver Creek offers the most exciting canoeing in the state, as well as some of the best smallmouth bass fishing. Sixteen miles of hiking trails lead visitors to panoramic views of the scenic valley, into the steep-walled gorge, along the river and past tumbling waterfalls, and through areas of historic interest featuring remnants of the canals and a town long abandoned. Twenty-three miles of bridle trails offer equestrians scenic rides through the valley. The family campground has 55 scenic non-electric sites and the horseman's campground provides 100 sites with tie-ups and primitive camping facilities.
The park's pioneer village features a number of reconstructed log structures including a chapel, settler's cabin, schoolhouse and blacksmith shop as well as a covered bridge. The centerpiece of the village is Gaston's Mill, a working grist mill built on the site in 1837 and restored in the 1960s. Today, the mill is operated by volunteers from the Columbiana County Forests and Parks Council and the Columbiana County Historical Association who grind corn and wheat with water power, just as their predecessors did in the 1830s. Visitors can purchase the cornmeal and buckwheat flour. Echos of the valley's past resound with the creaking of wooden gears and gravelly grinding of millstones, and the distant chiming of bells summoning the faithful to the chapel. The sound of water provides background music, splashing about the water wheel, rushing through the deep gorge and plunging over waterfalls. The ripe scent of crushed corn and a fine powder hang in the air.
Several remnants of the Sandy and Beaver Canal are preserved in the park. The 73-mile canal system featuring 90 locks and
30 dams was built in 1834 with private funding and high hopes of commercial success as a spur off the Ohio and Erie Canal. Despite the Sandy and Beaver's exceptional promise as a high-tech transportation waterway, development of rail transportation in the area in the mid-1800s made the canal obsolete and it was eventually abandoned. Although many of the canal structures are in ruins today, Lusk's Lock remains essentially intact, a testament to the lock's outstanding design and quality construction. It is an especially fine example of advanced engineering in its day, and its graceful double curved staircase is an enduring tribute to beauty of form and function. Through generous donations, fundraising campaigns and volunteer expertise, Lock Number 36 was restored to working order in 1991 and is now used for demonstrations. Other canal remnants in the park include Gretchen's Lock and Vondergreen's Lock.
Local legends add spice to a hike through the forest. A little imagination brings to life the ghost town of Sprucevale, once a bustling canal village that was abandoned with the canals. All that is left of Sprucevale is the ruins of Hambleton's Mill, which is said to be visited by the restless spirit of Esther Hale, a Quaker preacher. Gretchen's Lock is said to contain the tomb of a German canal engineer's young daughter, Gretchen Gill. On the ocean voyage to America to join the canal construction crew, the engineer's wife died and was buried at sea, leaving him and poor Gretchen alone. When Gretchen died after the family's arrival, her heartbroken father reportedly buried her in a vault in the lock on which he was working. Simon Girty, a white settler in Revolutionary War times who turned renegade and joined a Delaware Indian tribe which raided local settlements, is believed to have frequented these woods. It is said that his favorite place was the deep valley around Lusk's Lock.
Each fall the pioneer village celebrates the region's past with Beaver Creek Pioneer Craft Days, scheduled this year for October 5 and 6. The two-day event features demonstrations of antique machinery and old-fashioned technologies, craft exhibits and refreshments. Craft Days is organized by local volunteer groups, and over the years, proceeds have gone to operation of Gaston's Mill and park improvement projects such as restoration of the canal lock.
Staff Profile: Beaver Creek State Park Secretary Carol Darcy
Carol Darcy has served as Beaver Creek's secretary since 1978. As a teenager in Lisbon, Ohio, Carol visited the park for the first time on a high school biology field trip, and she still remembers fondly the nature scavenger hunt. Since then, she has enjoyed hiking, horseback riding and canoeing in the park. Carol loves being surrounded by gorgeous scenery every day, but her favorite time of year is fall. She recommends the Sprucevale Overlook with its breathtaking view over the valley as the definitive fall foliage destination. Carol enjoys the office location near the pioneer village, the hub of activity at this otherwise peaceful park. She has talked to many an excited park visitor who has claimed to have seen the ghosts of Esther Hale, Gretchen Gill or even Simon Girty riding on horseback. Carol enjoys interaction with the many volunteer groups and special interest organizations involved in the park bridle trails, canal remnants and other historic structures, and helps them with research projects from time to time.
The annual Pioneer Craft Days started the same year Carol came to Beaver Creek; Carol and Craft Days celebrate their 19th anniversaries as park institutions this year. She has seen the event grow from a mere 15 craft exhibitors to more than 80. Life at the park has been so enjoyable that the years have passed quickly. Carol loves helping preserve this scenic treasure.