If you've traveled almost anywhere in Ohio, you've probably noticed the gently rolling hills that cover much of the state, except for the northwest quadrant that is exceptionally flat. However, those gently rolling hills don't compare to the lower 1/3 southeast quadrant of the state. This area is special and known colloquially as Ohio's Hill Country, but in geologic terms it is called the Appalachian Plateau, an area defined by an elevation that rises abruptly on a line that is roughly diagonal across the lower third of the state. Although approaching glaciers towered over the hills, the massive ice sheets never covered this area.
Ohio's Hill Country is actually part of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world today: the Appalachian Mountains. Which, when they were new, were as big or bigger than the European Alps and the Rocky Mountains. The difference in heights is simply a matter of age and erosion. The Appalachians are old, really old, something approaching 500 million years. Over those millions of years, Mother Nature wore them down. Regardless of what they used to be, the Appalachians have aged quite gracefully and can still turn a suitor's eye.
Part of the geologic process that formed these mountains, also formed what we call Ohio's Hill Country. At one time this land relatively flat and on the bottom of large ocean. As volcanic and plate tectonic activity began up-heaving the ocean floor, the sandy bottom turned to stone making these Appalachian foothills have large outcropping of sandstone, which in geologic terms is actually quite soft. When Canada's glaciers moved south over the flat lands of northern Ohio they sort of ran out of steam when they came up against the Appalachian Plateau. With global warming, came large glacial melting that formed rivers and streams that cut through the sandstone leaving behind odd shaped caves and cliffs that have fascinated visitors to the area for 1000s of years.
Over 1000s of years and multiple glaciers coming and going, the plateau lost its top soil making the land mostly unsuitable for farming except for a few river valleys that collected the silt washing off the hillsides. In some areas this turbulent erosion exposed rich iron, coal and oil deposits that were heavily exploited in the late 1800 and 1900s. In places the land was stripped of trees to fire the ovens used to produce iron ore. In other areas the land was stripped to reach shallow veins of coal that could be removed without digging dangerous coal mines.
The area we commonly refer to as Ohio's Hill Country offers multiple distinct attractions that appeal to a diverse group of people. Foremost is the natural attractions that can only be found here and no where else.
Ohio's Hill Country was the first area that early settlers from the east began to put down roots. The dense forests and massive trees were unlike anything they had ever seen before. The rich soils found in the river valleys were thought to be some of the best soils anywhere in the world. For those first settlers brave enough to establish a homestead north of the Ohio River, this land must have seemed like a paradise. And it was for a while.
Farmers soon discovered that the rich farm land they found in the river valleys, were only found in the river valleys. The hills proved impractical for farming. What they did find were natural resources that could be extracted and sold. Early pioneers familiar with the making of iron, recognized the potential resources through a wide swath of land running through Southern Ohio that became known as Hanging Rock Iron District. Communities arose around these deposits that attracted laborers in large numbers to work the mines, run the blast furnaces, harvest the trees to fire the furnaces. Later coal was discovered in large quantities as was oil.
In time these resources were used up and the industrialists moved on to new fields. The workers that supported the blast furnaces were left without employment or the hope of employment and most moved on. Those that could eke out an existence, remained. The state stepped in and bought much of the abandoned land that would later become state parks that preserved the natural beauty for generations to come.
The Hocking Hills are one of Ohio's many shining stars. Natural rugged beauty that has developed a thriving tourist industry makes the area a natural spot worth exploring for visitors to Ohio. State parks are free for anyone to visit. For those looking for a longer stay in here in Ohio's beautiful hill country, numerous bed and breakfast, cabin rental, and other unique lodging are available. The area also provides a natural setting for destination weddings.
Activities include hiking, biking, horseback riding, boating, and zip lines. A few of the state parks are wheelchair accessible (most are not however).
Appalachian Country and Heritage
Ohio's Appalachian Country encompasses eastern and southeastern Ohio. When it became clear that farming for much of the area could not provide much more than enough food for a single family, and dependence on developing natural resources like iron, coal, and oil began to falter, families either moved away, or increasingly learned to be even more self-sufficient. Maintaining a life in this area more often than not meant relying on homegrown food and homemade products necessary to maintain a household. These unique talents were once mandatory to live here. Today, many of those skills have been preserved and expanded in what today we refer to as the Appalachian Heritage.
Appalachian Heritage includes a wealth of products, services and other cultural crafts that are now cherished by more than those that depended on them for their existence.
Ohio is a state that has been blessed with plentiful natural resources that makes it one of America's truly unique places. Perhaps its most important resource is water, plenty of water thanks to its location, Ohio receives about 40" of rain every year, and that rain for the most part falls year round. Ohio's streams and rivers made it possible for early inhabitants to cover great distances quickly. In the southern half of the state, the water flows south to the Ohio River. In many places the headwaters of these streams are short distances from streams that flow north to Lake Erie.Read more about Natural Resources...
- Flint is one of those rare minerals that is only created under specific geologic conditions. Ohio's early geology was ideal for creating flint, and the early inhabitants of these lands found this mineral and used it with great success. Flint has the property of being able to be shaped by hand into various shapes and sizes that have literally razor-sharp edges. In fact, in the hands of a true craftsmen, flint can be sharper than a razor blade. Early native Americans traveled great distances to certain spots, primarily in Ohio's foothills to quarry chunks of flint they could then shaped into knives and arrowheads.
- Wood was both a resource and a challenge for the early pioneers. In the late 1700s when settlers first began crossing over the Ohio River, they found massive stands of hardwood trees. Oak, hickory, sycamore and elm trees were commonly found growing here. These trees had been growing undisturbed for 100s of years. When settlers arrived here it wasn't uncommon to find trees that were 40, 50 even 60 feet in circumference. These massive trees covered most of Ohio's Hill Country. In later years, one tree could provide enough lumber to build a 2 story farm house and barn. Trees were first felled to clear lands deemed suitable for farming. Later, the trees were cut for fuel to keep the oven fires hot for producing iron iron. Even later, the trees were cut to build railroads and fuel the early steam engines. By the end of the 19th Century, most of Ohio's Hill Country was barren of any trees except for those areas that were impossible to cut. In an article and photo by John Switzer of The Columbus Dispatch, he shows the 2nd largest burr oak tree in Ohio that had to be cut down in 2012. It measured about 20' in circumference and was over 250 years of age. This gives readers a perspective of the size trees throughout Ohio's Hill Country that were up to 60' in diameter.
- Clay was another resource discovered in many parts of Ohio's Hill Country. The quality of this clay was ideal for ceramic making.
- Iron is what began the industrial revolution in America. Just prior to the Civil War, Ohio was seeing railroad construction growing faster than any other form of transportation. Railroads required massive amounts of iron to lay the 1000s of miles of track crisscrossing the state. This new transportation model also made it easier to ship and so the industrial revolution had begun.
- Coal became the fuel of choice for the railroads, industry and to heat America's homes. With the advent of the railroad, coal could be moved from one place to another quickly and cheaply.
- Oil has been one of Ohio's most valuable natural resources. Long before fracking made it possible to extract the black gold from areas once considered dried up, oil was known Oil was first discovered in Ohio's Hill Country back in the early 1800s. At that time, there was no known use for this smelly black substance. That changed quickly when it was discovered that
Re Creation Land: The AEP Re Creation Land project includes about 60,000 acres in Southeast Ohio and spreads across 4 counties. The land offers a wide assortment recreational activities to the public, including camping, fishing, hunting, bike trails, and horseback riding. This land was once strip-mined for its rich coal deposits, and has since been turned into a vibrant recreation area. Vigorous reclamation efforts involved planting 63 million trees, establishing over 350 lakes and ponds, and creating nearly 380 campsites. Use of the land is free, but it does require users to obtain a permit.
Located on re-claimed strip-mined lands, The Wilds is dramatic proof of what can be accomplished. Visitors to The Wilds come face-to-face with wild animals on guided safari tours crisscrossing the rolling hills and lakes in Muskingum County. While the land is completely fenced to keep the animals contained, when you're on one of the many tour vehicles, you're inside the fence with nothing between you and the animals. There are several notable exceptions: the mid-sized carnivore conservation area completely encloses these dangerous animals from coming too close to visitors. There are numerous walks, ramps and observation platforms to see the animals in their habitat however. Next to the carnivore habitat is the African Painted Dog habitat. If you get to visit these animals during their lunch break, you'll be glad there is a double security fence between you and them.