The rugged, natural beauty of the Hocking Hills region in southeastern Ohio attracts more than 4 million visitors annually, so it’s not surprising that Hocking Hills State Park is the most visited in the Buckeye State.
To accommodate all those folks seeking outdoor adventure, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has unveiled a new, state-of-the-art visitor center. Earlier this year, the project won first place in the annual Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA) Awards of Excellence competition.
Located at the entrance to Old Man’s Cave — the most well-known of seven major geological features in the park — the handsome log-and-stone structure includes 8,500 square feet of indoor space and both upper and lower covered outdoor verandas that add another 5,000 square feet to the two-story building.
“The new visitor center features interactive exhibits on both levels of the building that help guests learn about the unique nature and history of the Hocking Hills,” says Pat Quackenbush, naturalist supervisor at the park.
Upper-level displays assist visitors in planning their day by orienting them to Hocking Hills State Park, the surrounding Hocking State Forest, and nearby state nature preserves. Visitors will also learn about the locations and conditions of various trails systems, as well as the safety concerns of hiking area trails.
“A trail simulator gives visitors a sample of what they might encounter,” Quackenbush says. “Hocking Hills trails vary from flat and smooth to steep and rocky. Conditions can change quickly even on the same trail, especially when trails become wet or snow- and ice-covered.”
The lower level of the building takes visitors through the history and ecology of the Hocking Hills region. A simulated cave gives kids and adults a unique experience while learning about the geology of gorges in the area.
It’s likely the most helpful feature in the new center is the information desk in the lobby, where you can have your questions answered by a naturalist and pick up a free park map.