HOCKING HILLS — Hocking Hills State Park employees are gearing up for the 55th annual Winter Hike, which is scheduled for Jan. 18, 2020. For decades, hikers have come from around the country to take advantage of the cold temperatures in hopes of seeing beautiful ice formations. However, unless the weather drastically changes, hikers could be sloshing through a lot of mud this year.
According to Patrick Quackenbush, Naturalist Supervisor for the Hocking Hills State Park, Norv Hall was the first naturalist for Hocking Hills and in 1965 the Hocking Hills region became somewhat of a ghost town in the winter so Hall initiated the first winter hike.
“Actually, the very first one went backwards to where it goes today, it started at Ash Cave and went to Old Man’s Cave. They quickly realized because of the parking situation and everything it didn’t work that way, so the very next year it got switched going from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave,” explained Quackenbush.
Each year the hike brings in about 5,000 people, depending on the weather. A lot goes into the preparation for this six-mile hike. Quackenbush said his folks and others are already preparing the trails in areas where it’s narrow or not solid ground for the amount of hikers they’ll receive that day.
Many volunteers come to help out with the hike including local Kiwanas Club members. Club member and Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John Wallace has been associated with the club for over 25 years. He explained that during the Winter Hike, 40 to 50 volunteers, some arriving as early as 6:30 a.m., will descend on Cedar Falls to prepare the fire, food and drinks before hikers arrive.
Wallace noted that he’s been working the Winter Hike for more than 20 years and has met several politicians including governors and other legislative members.
“Back when I was more involved in the Boy Scout Troop 99, it was not uncommon for myself and a couple other adults to lead the boys on the first three miles of it from Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls,” shared Wallace.
Volunteers include club members, family of club members, friends of club members, the Ohio Department of Natural Resource members, other state park naturalists and scout troops. Anyone who wants to volunteer should stop by the State Park office at Old Man’s Cave to inquire.
About halfway through, at Cedar Falls, hikers can warm up with a hot meal including bean soup, cornbread and hot chocolate, which is provided by the Logan Kiwanis Club at no cost but donations are accepted as it’s a fundraiser for the club.
The club’s extreme focus is on youth from newborn to five years old but they do other things to help other people in the community too. The Logan Kiwanis Club also does scholarships for high school students, fishing derbies and provides diaper bags for kids whose parents have a hard time making ends meet.
There will be a donation barrel in the food serving area for those who want to donate. Donations will be used to provide scholarships as well as different charitable missions.
Quackenbush encourages hikers to dress accordingly to the weather, boots and lots of layers if it’s cold, and to come early so they can get everyone started and on the trail before 11 a.m.
The Winter Hike is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18 with continuous starts from 9 to 11 a.m. and the starting point is at the Visitor Center parking lot at Old Man’s Cave on state Route 664 South. A shuttle bus will return hikers to Old Man’s Cave from Ash Cave.
For more information, visit thehockinghills.org.