Salt Fork State Park

Central Ohio where I live is predominantly a flat agricultural region, with some wooded river areas and the occasional reservoir.  But if you head east, you are heading for the hills.

I headed to the hills recently with family members for a few days of vacation in Guernsey County.  This area is over halfway to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border from Columbus. ‘The landscape of rural Guernsey County appears as a patchwork of forested hills, open meadows and misty valleys threaded by numerous streams’, according to a state website blurb.  This turned out to be quite true.

There’s a large vacation attraction in Guernsey County- over 17,000 acres of forested hills surrounding a sprawling reservoir.  Salt Fork State Park is Ohio’s largest state park, and ‘large’ is definitely a good description- you can drive for quite a ways along several roads while still being located inside the park.  It almost feels like a whole county of its own, and it’s all woods, fields, hills and reservoir.

Here’s some of the pictures I took while there.  We attended right in front of the busy season, so there weren’t lots of people in the park- which was fine with me.  Who wants a crowded nature experience?

It’s starting to get hilly heading east.

Pit stop!

Salt Fork is named after a salt well that Native Americans used that is located on the park grounds.

The park lodge is quite a building.  There are 148 hotel rooms, a restaurant, a game room, a gift shop, and an outdoor pool nearby.

The gift shop sells all sorts of neat things, including Bigfoot dolls.  There’s a story behind this- Salt Fork has a reputation for being a haunt of a Bigfoot-type creature known as the Ohio Grassman.  As a matter of fact, we just missed a Bigfoot conference that was held at the park before we arrived.  There are YouTube videos and alleged sightings from the park that keep this mystery alive- and park officials admit that it boosts their attendance numbers.  The lady at the gift shop chatted a bit about this- I’ll treat her interesting observations as being off-the-record.  Suffice it to say that I saw no Ohio Grassman, but heard some colorful stories.

There is a large painting of Morgan’s Raiders in the lodge, a Confederate cavalry force that entered Ohio in 1863 and provoked a rare (for Ohio) Civil War battle at Buffington Island.  Morgan’s men came through this area and caused consternation behind northern lines.  Morgan ended up being captured and confined in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus (from which he escaped).  Civil War history is a fascinating subject and I was glad to see this painting.

Outside the lodge, a House Finch and a Yellow Warbler sang.  A pair of Pigeons made themselves at home here- one hunted for things to eat on the wooden shingles on the roof while the other drank from a pool.

After checking in at the lodge, we drove to our cabin- here it is.  Salt Fork has dozens of cabins for rent, and they’re quite comfortable.  Most of them are built on hillsides- the majority of the park is hilly, actually.  You can hang out on a screened-in porch, or retreat to beat the heat in air-conditioned comfort in the main living area.  A television with cable and a DVD player is available.  The beds are comfortable, and the kitchen and bath facilities are good.  A surprisingly modern cabin, with no way to claim you were roughing it!

The wooded ravine below our cabin.

Salt Fork Reservoir is miles long, twisting and turning through the park’s hills.  There’s plenty of boating and fishing going on there.

There’s an 18-hole golf course with a nice clubhouse in the park.

Winding roads cut through the forested hills.

Flower-wise, Bluets were something I hadn’t seen back home.

Fire Pinks stood out in the green foliage.

Cinquefoil was blooming in the woods.

Ferns were plentiful under the tree canopy- there were different varieties.

Canada Geese and their goslings looked ready to beg from people who had food.

Geese also hung out in the empty beach parking lot.  It’ll get busy soon enough, guys.

Turkey Vultures were all over the park in good numbers.

At dawn and at twilight, you could see Turkey Vultures gathered at roosting areas.

This was the first time I’d seen a Vulture taking a bath!

Yellow Warblers were common in the park.  You could hear them singing in many places.

Flycatchers were common too- there were plenty of bugs for them to eat.

This Waterthrush sang near our cabin.


Carolina Wren

Great Blue Heron

Pileated Woodpeckers enjoy mature woodland, which Salt Fork has in abundance.

Red-Eyed Vireo

Brown Thrasher

An Osprey flew over the reservoir.

The Kennedy Stone House was built in 1837 out of native sandstone quarried nearby.  The house and root cellar was built for $600 at the time, and is an example of superb workmanship.  It is now owned by the park and is furnished like it was back in the 19th century (it was closed when we went there, unfortunately).  I can only imagine the work involved to build this house merely 34 years after Ohio became a state.  Guernsey County is quite rural to this very day, and the hill it is built on is steep.

Another feature of interest is Hosack’s Cave, a 60-foot sandstone cliff with a hollowed-out area under a small water drop.  A memorial to a teen who tragically fell to her death at the cave marks the path entrance.

Legend has it that Morgan’s Raiders camped here.  It’s rugged territory.

Swallowtails sunned themselves in a parking lot.

Near our cabin, Cicadas were leaving discarded skin behind.

We built a fire out front each night.

Something was moving around in the dark beneath our feet- I used my flash and got a photo of a rather friendly Toad.

This Cicada didn’t last long- it walked right up to the Toad.

The next night, this visitor landed on a branch above our heads.  This Screech Owl put up with a flashlight beam and a flash photo.  Was it drawn by the fire, or merely curious?

One of the hikes I went on was along an old fire road that ran from the lodge parking lot down to the shore of the reservoir.  The scenery was nice.

A Chipmunk peered at me from its rocky home.

The road ended at a pump house where fire trucks can draw water from the reservoir.

I was taking pictures of this female Cardinal building a nest in a bush with meticulous care when I heard a sound behind me.  I turned around and nearly scared a Raccoon out of its fur!  It leapt off the road and hurled itself down the hill.  I swear it jumped a foot into the air.  I had held so still taking photos that it hadn’t seen me as it ambled almost right up to me.

Here’s the Raccoon coming down a tree before I spooked him down the hill about 20 minutes later.  We both walked along the road because it was easier than going through the forest!

Last but not least, White Tailed Deer roamed the forest.  This was their park, and I felt privileged to watch them.

Check out state parks in your area- I bet you’ll enjoy them!