HOCKING HILLS — The level of natural beauty throughout the Hocking Hills is well known and now, one of its newer buildings has received praise for its beauty and promise as well.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) received four Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (OPRA) Awards of Excellence, including first place for the new Hocking Hills State Park Visitors Center, at OPRA’s annual conference on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
“The Hocking Hills Visitor Center is a great starting point for any adventure at one of Ohio’s finest parks,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “It’s exciting to see the public’s investment and years of work now paying dividends for visitors from all over.”
“These award winners represent the best of the best in parks and recreation in Ohio,” said OPRA Executive Director Woody Woodward.
The OPRA Awards of Excellence are judged by a panel of Ohio parks and recreational professionals.
The center is open year-round and offers a staffed information desk, trail safety and educational exhibits, gift shop and lower level restrooms.
It cost $5 million to build the facility that is roughly 11,000 square feet with two floors.
The center is fully ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible with many features explaining the history of the area and what hikers can expect.
Patrick Quackenbush, naturalist supervisor at Hocking Hills, was present at the award ceremony when they received this first place honor. He said there were 800 representatives from parks throughout Ohio so to receive the top award was very special and felt gratifying because of all the hard work that went into making the center a reality.
“There was a lot of work that went into that building from engineering to design so it was very nice to be honored by our peers and be recognized for what we’ve done to make it a special place,” remarked Quackenbush.
He continued that the goal when creating the visitors center was to make something not just great for Hocking County but something that would be great on a national level.
“We know how many people love the Hocking Hills and how big it is so we wanted it to be made as not just a state but a country wide visitors center,” explained Quackenbush. “That is what we were shooting for and we are happy that we feel that we have achieved that.”
It has been estimated that roughly four million people visit the Hocking Hills each year but Quackenbush said nobody has been counting the number of people who have utilized the visitors center since it opened in June of 2019.
He mentioned that because it is free and people also come in multiple times a day it would just be too difficult to determine specifically how many people are coming in.
But the naturalists at the center do sometimes keep track of the number of people they talk to in a day.
“We did that for a little bit to get an idea of what people wanted to know and what was popular and quite frankly, they were turning in to me daily, hundreds of people that they were talking to in the daytime especially on the weekends,” Quackenbush stated.
The visitors center’s gift shop is also doing very well according to Quackenbush. He commented that it is breaking records in terms of sales.
And he added that there are a few more items that still have to go inside the visitors center so technically, it is not totally complete.
One of these items is what he described as a four foot by nine foot, 3-D model of Old Man’s Cave Gorge that people can go in and look at to see what they should be watching out for before they go and check out the real thing.
He is expecting it to be at the Hocking Hills Visitor Center by the beginning of March.
For more information about the Hocking Hills Visitor Center call 740-385-8003 or stop at the office located near Old Man’s Cave on state Route 664.