July 2007 Issue
Take to the Byway
Ohio's rural counties deliver meandering roads, historic sites, roadside treasures and views that will take your breathe away.
A friend of mine who lives in Athens County once told me this about her Appalachian roots. "The one thing you need to know about our people is they're survivors. Our ways may seem odd to city folks, but we do what we have to to get by."
Perhaps this is what makes driving through the 29 Appalachian counties - which begin in the foothills of the Appalachians and end where the Ohio River bends sharply northwest - such an adventure. You'll find testimony to this trait along every road, ridge and holler; tiny diners advertising their lunch special plus bait and tackle supplies, grocery stores that double as the town post office, and fresh produce, plants and honey for sale in the front yard of a modest-but-loved home. You might start out on the main road, but handwritten signs for everything from antiques to blackberry pie will lure you off the beaten path.
The opportunities for beautifully scenic drives are endless in these rural spots, and the journey connects us with Ohio's Appalachian history (particularly if your car has a good GPS). Here, we've chosen three that will wind you along country roads, offering plenty of places to stop and shop, picnic or hike along the way.
Every Day is a Winding Road
Route: St. Rte. 78, from Nelsonville in Athens County to Clarington in Monroe County
Length: 90 miles
Suggested stops: The Art Works, Burr Oak State Park, McConnelsville, Miner's Memorial Park
St. Rte. 78 is a designated scenic byway, and a beautiful drive in any season. But late summer, when the days are long and the crops start to yield, is an ideal time to pass through this area, since farm stands will start to appear along its twisting roads. We suggest catching 78 in Nelsonville in Athens County, but only after you've taken a detour through the town square to witness its remarkable transformation into an arts hub over the past decade. Head northeast in the direction of Burr Oak State Park, and the route starts to get pretty about four miles outside of town. You'll pass through the quiet streets and old brick buildings of downtown Murray City before you hit Glouster about 10 miles north of Nelsonville.
Two miles past Glouster, in Morgan County, look for the Art Works on the left-hand side. Here, artist Douglas Mooney lathes rough scraps of wood into bowls, flutes and other pieces inspired by Native American works. "Right now I'm working on a Native American series called ‘Basket Illusion,'" says Mooney, referring to his series that includes 20-inch wooden platters so intricately detailed that they appear woven, not carved. "I've actually had people argue with me, and insist that they're baskets," he laughs. Mooney hails from the South, but migrated north about 12 years ago. "My wife's sister lives down the road, and I just fell in love with this area and its hills," he says. "The people are the nicest people I've ever met."
Continue on down the road and watch for signs for the boat ramps and other amenities at Burr Oak State Park. Break up the drive and stretch your legs by following signs to the lodge, where you can grab a trail map and create a quick or serious hike through the hardwood forest on trails like the Ravine Trail (1.5 miles), Chipmunk Trail (.5 miles) or Red Fox Trail (.75 miles), all accessible right outside the facility's door.
Back on 78, the road winds for the next 22 miles into McConnelsville, a route so full of tight turns and switchbacks that we don't recommend it for anyone with a sensitive stomach. It's mostly greenery, but about halfway to McConnelsville, a ridge-top view opens up on the left, delivering the kind of scenery worth driving for. Unfortunately, there's not really a place to pull off and enjoy the view, so be prepared to slow down to take it in.
The locks and dams of McConnelsville made it an important part of the Ohio and Erie Canal in the town's early history, says Amy Grove, the tourism director for Morgan County. As you ease onto the city's main drag, a peaceful view of the Muskingum River and the gleaming Morgan County Veterans Memorial Bridge that stretches across its banks speaks to this influence. If you opted for a hike, this is a great place to stop for lunch. Grab a burger and soda at the Blue Bell Diner in the town square (2 W. Main St./St. Rte. 60), a local legend that celebrated its 75th anniversary in May.
If you prefer to picnic, hold out another nine miles for Miner's Memorial Park, which chronicles the influence of the surface-mining industry on the area's history. At the center of the park is the 220-cubic-yard, 240-ton bucket of the Big Muskie, the largest dragline ever built. During its lifetime, this phenomenal machine moved 483 million tons of soil. The AEP-maintained site opened in 1999, and its facilities and picnic tables are pristinely maintained for a public area. If time permits, visit curators Don and Connie Nicholls, who spend their summers in an on-site trailer, offering history lessons to anyone who knocks on their door. Don, who keeps a cross section of the machine's mammoth power cord to show visitors, sums it up best: "I don't think they'll ever build one like that again."
The second half of this tour takes you all the way to the northeastern banks of the Ohio River through Noble and Monroe counties. There aren't many places to stop on this route, but the scenery is vibrant and worth the extra mileage. If you're heading north at the end of the trip, we highly recommend diverging off Rte. 78 onto St. Rte. 800 north at Woodsfield, which winds you along a beautiful drive through Monroe and into Belmont County before returning you to the noise and traffic of I-70.
The Native American Way
St. Rte. 41
Length: 95 miles
Suggested Stops: Chillicothe, Seven Caves, Fort Hill State Memorial, Serpent Mound, Aberdeen Community Park
Ohio's ancient Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures thrived in the Ohio River Valley, says Brad Lepper, an archeologist with the Ohio Historical Society, and the earthen structures and artifacts of these groups make for a prehistorically charged day trip. "These ancient cultures don't correspond to tribes, but correlate to similarities in things like artifact styles, burial practices and architecture," he explains. A drive down Rte. 41, beginning in Ross County and ending in Brown County, is a chance to connect with these cultures - walk the base of burial mounds, read about ancient pipes, tools and other artifacts and take in stress-relieving views of rocky outcroppings and bluffs along the way.
Begin your drive in Chillicothe at the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. The 2,000-year-old Hopewell culture is characterized by geometric earthworks and burial mounds, and here you'll find examples of this mound-building behavior plus a museum with artifacts excavated from the site.
A scenic route out of town begins on St. Rte. 28, where after about seven miles the residential neighborhoods start to fade, replaced by expanses of green fields, forests and hills. Fifteen miles in, you'll start to see colorful quilt patterns hanging just below barn peaks, part of the "Clothesline of Quilts in Appalachian Ohio" project that began in Adams County and has extended into Ross, Highland and Fayette counties.
After about 20 miles of rolling hills, take a quick left onto St. Rte. 41 south. Here the road becomes a designated scenic byway, stretching along hillsides and creeks and through small towns until you reach the Ohio River.
Just before Bainbridge, an eastbound detour along St. Rte. 50 takes you to the Seip Mound - another example of Hopewell burial mounds. To the west lies Seven Caves Nature Preserve and Highlands Nature Sanctuary, a destination so pristine it's magical. Visits here must be scheduled, so call ahead to secure a spot.
Back on Rte. 41, stop for a picnic lunch at Fort Hill State Memorial, a 1,200-acre nature preserve with 11 miles of hiking trails and a few picnic tables. The site centers on a mile-long Hopewell hilltop enclosure, believed to be one of the best-preserved in North America. The surrounding hikes deliver a gorgeous hardwood forest, not to mention a good workout, since parts of the trail are hillier than the parking area lets on.
As you cross over into Adams County, Lepper says you'll find more examples of Adena and Fort Ancient cultures, most notably the Serpent Mound off St. Rte. 73. Lepper says the Adena people were Ohio's first farmers, as well as the first to build mounds, and this effigy was long thought to be Adena, before excavations and radiocarbon dating linked it to the Fort Ancient culture as well.
The remainder of the drive winds you south down to the small community of Aberdeen in Brown County. If you've held out for lunch, consider pointing your wheels east on St. Rte. 52 for riverside dining and a view of the vineyard at Moyer's Winery & Restaurant in Manchester.
Otherwise, shut down the engine in Aberdeen Community Park, where the peaceful flow of the Ohio River and view of Maysville, Kentucky, are among the park's amenities.
Route: U.S. Rte. 36, St. Rte. 39
Length: About 60 miles, 90 if you travel to Coffee Cake Winery
Suggested stops: Raven's Glenn Winery, Shawnee Springs Winery, Rainbow Hills Winery, Breitenbach Winery, Al-Bi Winery, Coffeecake Winery
Ohio's Appalachia is grounded in history, but throughout, generations of survivors have continued to find ways to move forward. This is why, even in the most rural of areas, you'll find one of the world's most sophisticated of beverages, produced from acres of vineyards tucked back off dirt county roads. Just be forewarned; traveling between these wineries can take 30 minutes or more. It's a good idea to bring an empty cooler, since the heat of the sun on your trunk can damage your wine, and you'll probably want to bring back some Amish cheeses to serve with your new cellar selections.
Start out in the east in Coshocton County along U.S. Rte. 36, a pretty drive that leads directly to one of the state's newer wineries, Raven's Glenn, located about midway between I-77 and the city of Coshocton on Co. Rd. 143. It's a mammoth facility with a full-service restaurant, plenty of deck space and an extensive selection of reds and whites, including well-known varietals like zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and riesling, plus fruit and ice wines.
Down the road, backtrack a few miles to Co. Rd. 6 (off St. Rte. 83) and Shawnee Springs Winery, a charming spot for a nature walk and native varietals such as Concord and Catawba. Or, follow the signs and head north on Twp. Rd. 251, where, five miles of paved and dirt roads later, you'll find Rainbow Hills Winery, one of the state's most scenic spots for an estate-grown glass of wine. Owners Joy and Lee Wyse recently finished the addition of the Inn at Rainbow Hills, a partially restored circa-1831 log cabin salvaged from their property.
At this point, backtrack to U.S. 36, head west and then turn north on St. Rte. 93, a hilly, winding, but scenic stretch of road. At St. Rte. 39, head east into Dover for a stop at Breitenbach Winery. Known throughout the state as the place for "Amish wine," Breitenbach is a destination in itself, thanks to its marketplace and bed and breakfast. The winery produces a huge selection of dry and sweet wines, but if you want a tour, you'll have to come in May during the annual Dandelion Festival. Down the Road, Swiss Heritage Winery at Broad Run Cheese House offers a smaller selection of wine and more than 30 varieties of cheeses to go with it.
From here, head back to St. Rte. 39, and cruise over to Dellroy and Al-Bi Winery, a cozy facility at Atwood Lake with a small assortment of fruity grape wines. End here, or, if back roads suit you, head southeast to Harrison County's Coffee Cake Winery in Hope-dale, on Twp. Rd. 178 near U.S. Rte. 22. Here, acres of vines and the secluded, unpretentious setting makes it clear why big-city living just doesn't interest some folks - and we hope it never will.
Ohio's Appalachia Slide Show