Clifty Falls State Park

Clifty Falls State Park near Madison, Ind., is awesome. The park has 10 different trails of various difficulty, plus a campground, amphitheater, pool, playgrounds, playfields, and an Inn with views of the park and the Ohio River.

To get there, you will pass through nearby Madison, Ind. This charming little town is full of shopping, dining and history – including several places that were part of the Underground Railroad.

But for the part we really care about – the hiking. I’ve been to this park twice this year and every time I go I like it better. The first time was earlier in spring; there were still no leaves on the trees. The second time I went everything was in full bloom, and I had a lot more time to explore the park.

One of the things I like about this park is the trail heads are marked clearly; we never had any trouble finding where we were trying to get. I also love that the trail table on the lower left side of the park map actually gives fairly accurate trail descriptions.

Big and Little Clifty Falls

Trail 7 – 1.25 miles

This is your view of Big Clifty Falls from beneath the overlook.

This is your view of Big Clifty Falls from beneath the overlook.

I had to add the

I had to add the “or hound dogs” part; Emme didn’t seem to think these signs applied to her.

We’ve established in previous posts that I love waterfalls. Clifty doesn’t disappoint in this department: there are four that are all relatively easy to access. If you need ADA accessible, there is an overlook at Trail 7 where you can get a good view of Big Clifty Falls. But beyond that, if you can’t do steps, you’re out of luck for all of the trails. The only drawback with this park is that you can’t really get a good view of any of the waterfalls from the trails and there are umpteen billion signs warning you not to veer off the trail under any circumstances.

The trick with most of the trails at this park is getting in and out of the gorges. Everything is situated around the creeks, gorges, caves and waterfalls.

Trail 7 was the first one I hit, and at the beginning it seems like it will be too much. It isn’t.

In a rare moment when Emme's little hound dog nose isn't pressed to the ground, she looks ahead under the rock ledge.

In a rare moment when Emme’s little hound dog nose isn’t pressed to the ground, she looks ahead under the rock ledge.

It starts out ADA accessible, then goes down steps. You do have to come back out, but it’s not as bad as it seems going in. Take a right halfway down the first batch of steps and the trail will take you under a rock ledge to another view of Big Clifty. When you get back to the steps you can either keep going straight or take another right and complete a short loop through the woods.

Cake Rock

Cake Rock

The highlight of this itty bitty trail is seeing Cake Rock, a huge boulder that looks like a piece of cake balancing on its side.

These are the steps getting to Little Clifty Falls. Don't worry - you only have to go down them.

These are the steps getting to Little Clifty Falls. Don’t worry – you only have to go down them.

The loop will bring you to the other side of the steps – so you’ll be left of where you started at the top of the steps. Take a long, narrow set of steps down and you’ll be standing on top of Little Clifty Falls. I love standing there and watching the water go over the falls. But once you’re across, you can go right and walk along the top of the gorge and get more views of the falls. Once you make that right turn, you’re on Trail 6, a half-mile trek which leads out to the Hickory Grove Shelter.

This is a piece of the steps leading back out of the gorge. It actually isn't as bad going out as it seems like it would be when you're staring down all those steps.

This is a piece of the steps leading back out of the gorge. It actually isn’t as bad going out as it seems like it would be when you’re staring up all those steps.

If you opt to keep to Trail 7, you’ll make your ascent. The first time I did this trail, I looked at those five sets of 17 steps, lost all heart, turned around and went back the way I came. It was a mistake.

Once you get up those steps, it’s a mostly level trail along one side of the gorge, across the creek and back up the other side. The trail comes out at the ball fields across from the parking lot at the trailhead.

Tunnel Falls

Trail 5 – .9 mile

The trees and weird angle of this shot of Tunnel Falls isn't helped by my foggy GoPro lens. I'm getting tired of lugging a DSLR around, but I haven't mastered GoPro photography yet.

The trees and weird angle of this shot of Tunnel Falls isn’t helped by my foggy GoPro lens. I’m getting tired of lugging a DSLR around, but I haven’t mastered GoPro photography yet. But this is another example of the difficulty of seeing the waterfalls from the trails on top of the ridge.

I cheated a bit on this trail. It’s a bit more rugged than Trail 7, but I really wanted to see the falls and the tunnel. There’s no ADA portion to get you started, once you park at the trailhead it’s all downhill. Literally. Back down into the gorge you go, down a long set of steps. Once you get to the bottom, an overlook gives you your first view of Tunnel Falls, a long, lean flow over the rocks.

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Someday I will remember to count the number of steps on a trail. All I can remember about this one was there was a lot of steps, but they were still over before I knew it.

I was a little worried about the difficulty of the trail, but we kept going back to the tunnel and it was pretty easy going to the mouth of the cave. Once you get to the cave, you’ll have to pick your way over rocks to get inside, and if you’re more than five feet tall you’ll be ducking about fifteen feet into the cave. I didn’t get much farther than that because brilliant me left my headlamp in the car and it was a bit dark in there. I didn’t want the only joint I rolled that day to be my ankle.

For a fun bit of history for you, this tunnel is part of what’s known as “Brough’s Folly” because it was part of a failed attempt to build a railroad. The tunnel was started in 1852. When you visit, keep in mind that Trail five and the tunnel are only open in the summer to protect the bats who live in the cave.

Hoffman Falls

Trail 3 – 1 mile

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On the trail around Hoffman Falls you’ll cross a couple of bridges over pretty little creeks, like this one.

If you feel froggy, you can continue on Trail 5 until it dead ends to trail four, and take that to Hoffman Falls. Or you can wimp out (like I did) and hike back out on Trail 5 and drive to the trailhead for #3 and hike down to Hoffman. Trail four is rated very rugged and I wasn’t sure of my ability to complete it. Spending more time catching my breath than hiking isn’t how I like to spend my outdoors time.

Getting down to Hoffman falls was another trek down steps, but I loved this trail. You’ll cross a couple of creeks and you can use this tail to get down to Trail 2 – my nemesis. But more on that later.

Once you get past the falls, Trail 3 joins with 1 and 2. Following trail 3 will loop you back to the trail head, but I was starting to run low on oxygen so we turned back before completing the loop. Or you can take Trail 2 when they split and hike up the creek bed all the way up to the base of Big Clifty Falls.

Hiking is always better with friends! This is Karli and me (looking all sexy in my Buff, a.k.a. sweat catcher. Because if there is one thing I do well, its sweat.)

Hiking is always better with friends! This is Karli (thebeatkeeper.wordpress.com) and me (looking all sexy in my Buff, a.k.a. sweat catcher. Because if there is one thing I do well, it’s sweat.)

Speaking of Trail 2, this one is a bit of my nemesis. I haven’t been brave enough to try it because to hike it you are climbing along a creek bed. Of course, because you are hiking under the falls this is probably the best way to get a good shot of the falls. This trail is a goal for me – I know I don’t have the strength right now – or the footwear – to climb over rocks and play in the water. But next time. Next time, Trail 2, I’m coming for you.

Things to remember

  • There is more to the trails and more trails than what I discussed here.
  • I haven’t had the chance yet to spend much time in Madison, but it’s a place I plan to go back to. I just don’t think the pretty people enjoying their Sunday want to smell me after I’ve been rolling around in the woods for hours.
  • Wear proper footwear because the trails go up and down steps, over roots and rocks and through the woods.
  • The volume of the waterfalls depend greatly on the rain. If there has been a lot – like so far this summer – they’re going to be more voluminous. But that also means that Trail 2 may not be passable because there will be too much water flowing. So check the weather before you go or else you may be disappointed.
  • There is a charge to get into the park: $7 for state residents, $9 for out-of-state visitors.
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Underground Railroad: Fee Villa

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Fee Villa, pictured above, was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Moscow, Ohio. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, the residents would signal by placing a candle in the window.

Along the river are a lot of those little blink-and-you-miss-them towns. You know the kind that have a sign saying, “Welcome,” then 10 feet later one saying “Thank you for visiting.” They’re charming, usually hiding some kind of gem – either a great locally-owned shop or restaurant, or someone with a great life story. One thing you can count on is they always have a story to tell.

Moscow, Ohio is a little town like that. If you’re following US-52 – yep, that road again! – you don’t even have to blink to miss it. You’ll see signs for it once you get out of Point Pleasant, Ohio, but you have to turn off the main road to find it.

This teensy town registered 185 citizens in the 2010 census, down from the 244 who registered during the 2000 census. It was in the news about three years ago when tornadoes ripped through the area, taking out about 80 percent of the town and killing three people.

Go back about 150 years and the town was home to a distillery that made fruit brandies, and a glass factory. Today, there are some houses and a church or two. At the end of Water Street is a stately white house standing vigil over a long dock on the Ohio River.

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Check out that eerie fog. That’s the Ohio River blending in with the sky there. Usually, its easy to see the opposite bank.

The house wasn’t hard to find, exactly, I just had a bit of trouble figuring out which street I was on. You would think with just a handful of streets it would be easy, which is what I think the village planner thought too because I didn’t think the streets were marked well.

I finally found the house – but only because I decided to drive down a street that ended in a boat ramp because I wanted to get some photos of the river covered in fog. I chickened out before getting to the ramp – I always feel like I’m going to drive straight into the river, even though I’m at least 200 feet from the shore – and when I turned my head to check my mirrors, I saw the small green sign to designate this house as part of the Clermont County Freedom Trail.

This large white house was once a beacon of freedom for people crossing the river. I stood on the bank of the river below the house and tried to imagine what it would be like to get across that river. Its wide and with the heavy fog the morning I was there, I couldn’t even see the other bank. The river and its swift current dwarfed the dock beneath the home.

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More eerie photos. I can’t help but love the fog!

The place is Fee Villa, formerly inhabited by Thomas Fee, Jr., a noted abolitionist. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, Fee would place a candle in the window of the house. That candle in the window is still used in Moscow’s village logo today.

The Fees would feed, clothe the people they helped, and then transported them along the railroad to Felicity, Ohio.

A few blocks away is an open site where the home of Robert E. Fee once stood.  Fee fought to get back the freedom of a woman and her children who were kidnapped and then sold into slavery. He was unsuccessful, but dedicated his life to helping slaves escape. He was indicted by Pendleton County for slave stealing, but Ohio refused to extradite him to Kentucky to stand trial.

If you want to keep following the Freedom Trail in Clermont County, Ohio, there a many more places to visit. Check out their brochure of Underground Railroad locations, and keep checking back here. I’ll keep visiting them throughout the summer!

Washington, Ky.: Take a walk through time

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Historic Washington Village, Ky., just south of Maysville, offers a bundle of history, shopping and entertainment. Visitors can schedule a guided walking tour calling 606-759-7411, or take in the town at their own pace, using signs posted throughout the town. Washington features  log cabins dating from the 1790s and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The more I explore Kentucky, the more surprised I am by how many very interesting and beautiful things lurk in the next holler. Even though I moved to Kentucky with the intention of only staying long enough to finish my degree, I don’t really ever plan to leave. You know, unless I happen to find a Montana cowboy. I suppose then I could be persuaded to leave my rolling hills for more wide open spaces.

Maybe.

Historic Washington isn't the kind of town you'll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago,  but the imperfections only add to its charm.

Historic Washington isn’t the kind of town you’ll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago, but the imperfections only add to its charm.

One of the places that inspired me recently was a small village just south of Maysville, Ky. Its store-lined Main Street looks like something from a painting, the sight helped along by the number of period buildings still standing. Washington isn’t the kind of place you go to see something restored in pristine condition – it isn’t that kind of tourist attraction. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap at all. Many of the old homes are private residences, and are opened to the public only for certain events. Of the places that are open to the public, they are accessible only on a walking tour through the town.

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A long stretch of flagstone sidewalks stretch from Mefford’s Fort to the Visitor’s Center.

We visited in late spring, when the town was still waking up from winter. There were some vendors on the sidewalk in front of the Old Courthouse Lawn (more on that location later), and more traffic through the various shops than I expected. I can’t say the buildings were in pristine shape, but they weren’t ramshackle, either. You will see some minor wear and tear, maybe a missing or damaged shutter here and there, but all of these things add to the charm of the town. I’ve been to fully-restored historic towns, forced to keep to a certain code so they always look just-so, and they do not have the charm and personality of Washington.

When I walk on flagstone sidewalks along Main Street, it’s easy to imagine hearing the clop of hooves on the road. What is harder to imagine is the impact the people of this blip on the map have had on the world.

In the beginning, there was an explorer.

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Many of the first settlers of the village  were Revolutionary War veterans.

Washington Village, now part of Maysville, Ky., is older than the state in which it resides. It was one of the first towns established in modern-day Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, and the first town named after George Washington. It’s a whole lot of firsts. Washington was founded in 1786 by Revolutionary War Veteran William Wood and many of the original settlers were Revolutionary War soldiers, and are buried at the Old Baptist Cemetery just outside town.

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Fun story: This log cabin used to be a flatboat. And then 13 people lived in it. Its the only known remaining flatboat cabin left in the country.

One of the most memorable things about Washington is the number of log cabins still standing that date to the town’s founding in the late 1700s. One of these, Mefford’s Fort, is the last known flatboat cabin still standing. Mefford was in on the whole repurposing trend about 300 years before it was cool. He floated his wife and children down the Ohio River, then hauled the boat about five miles uphill from the river and made a log cabin out of his boat. His wife and 13 children shared this house. All I can say is it’s a good thing they didn’t have indoor plumbing. There would have been bloodshed in that house over the bathroom.

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The log cabin post office is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

As one of the first settlements, it’s post office became the first established west of the Appalachian Mountains and served the entire Northwest Territory, which encompassed Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The original post office was torn down in 1848, but the existing building is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

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The area used to be filled with cane brakes like this one behind the Bluegrass Artisan Center.

Other cabins in the town include the Cane Brake Visitor’s Center and the Simon Kenton Shrine. The town’s Visitor Center now occupies the Paxton House on the opposite end of Main Street, and the Cane Brake cabin has become the Bluegrass Artisan Center. Simon Kenton never lived in the cabin named for him, but he did once own a store in the town and sold the land for the town to its original settlers. The town still honors its earliest explorer the third weekend in September with the Simon Kenton Festival.

A town divided over slavery

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The Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery and didn’t reunite until over 100 years later.

Much of the advertised history of Washington relates to the Civil War and Underground Railroad. As a border state, Kentucky tried to stay neutral and act as a liaison between the two sides. But just as this approach didn’t work for the state, staying neutral didn’t work at the town level, either. The debate trickled into a church congregation and ripped it apart. In 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington split over the issue of slavery.

The congregation in Washington became the Methodist Episcopal Church South and had a separate slave gallery that was removed in the 1970s, according to the inscription outside the building. The Methodist Episcopal Church North relocated to Third Street in Maysville. More than 100 years later, the congregations reunited as the Trinity United Methodist Church.

Dueling generals

This house sheltered two men who both attended the same Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then opposite sides of the Civil War.

This house sheltered two men who both attended Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then fought on opposite sides of the Battle of Shiloh in the Civil War.

Nowhere is there a better example of the divide in Kentucky than the Albert Sydney Johnston House on Court Street.

This quiet, white dwelling housed two men who eventually faced each other on opposite sides of the Civil War.

Johnston, the home’s namesake, spent time in the United States Army before retiring to join the Texas Army. He then returned to the U.S. Army only to again retire to join the Confederacy. He became a general in the Confederate Army, taking a mortal wound early at the Battle of Shiloh.

Also fighting at the Battle of Shiloh was Union General William “Bull” Nelson. His family took up residence in this house after Johnston’s father died. Both men attended the same Presbyterian Church in Washington, both men attended West Point and both men fought at the Battle of Shiloh. But where Johnston’s story ends there, Nelson’s continues until his murder in 1862.

Nelson was known for publicly disciplining his officers. One of them, General Jefferson C. Davis – not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis – gunned him down in a hotel after one of these public disciplinary sessions by Nelson some time before.  Davis admitted to the murder, but was not charged or arrested and went back to duty about two weeks after the incident.

Inspiring “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

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Events on this bright green lawn inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

One of the things Washington is best known for isn’t a resident, but a famous visitor. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the town before she was married. At the time she was teaching in Cincinnati, and came to the small town to visit one of her students. While in Washington, she witnessed a slave auction on the Old Courthouse Lawn.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key home, where she visited Washington.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key house, where Stowe stayed while she visited.

The sight stayed with her and was one of the experiences that influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The courthouse burned down in 1909 after being struck by lightning. Today, the only thing to mark the dark history of the spot is the sign  commemorating the Old Courthouse.

While she was visiting, Stowe stayed at the Marshall Key house. Key was nephew to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.  Today, the home has been converted to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum and is available to tour.

All aboard the Underground Railroad

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The Paxton Inn (right) has a secret stairwell that was used in the Underground Railroad.

Northern Kentucky’s position along the Ohio River lent itself to several stops for the Underground Railroad. At least one of these stops was in Washington in the Paxton Inn. This Inn also served as an important community center where meetings were held to discuss important issues, including slavery. There is a secret stairway between the first and second floors where people could be hidden until they were moved across the Ohio River. I wonder if Underground Railroad passengers ever overheard one of these debates while they were in hiding?

Influencing international law

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One of my favorite Washington characters didn’t make the cut for the sign.

Even though Washington was host to some impressive visitors in its heyday, one of my favorite characters of the town would have been overlooked by most of the citizens. His story didn’t even make it to the inscription outside the home.

Thornton Blackburn was a slave who served in the Murphy-Lashbrooke house on Main Street. He was sold, eventually ending up in Louisville, where he escaped with his wife and fled along the Underground Railroad to Detroit. They lived there for about two years before being discovered and arrested in 1834. Detroit’s first race riot broke out while they were incarcerated, giving the Blackburn’s enough cover to escape from the city into Canada.

Once in Canada, slave hunters again located the couple and tried to arrest them and have them extradited to the States. But Canada refused to release the couple to United States custody, determining a person cannot steal himself, and establishing case law that determined once a slave set foot on Canadian soil he or she became a free man or woman.

The Blackburn’s earned a very American ending to their Canadian story. In Toronto, the Blackburns helped many slaves reach freedom in Canada, thanks to the law they helped create. They built a prosperous, influential life for themselves in Toronto. Blackburn became a successful businessman when he established the city’s first cab service. He chose yellow and red for his cab’s color scheme, and Toronto kept this when they adopted city transportation.

Washington’s worldwide influence

At the beginning of this story I promised that Washington residents had a worldwide impact.  So far, we’ve talked about the Civil War and slavery issues stretching into Canada. Now, I’m going to shift focus a bit – to Pakistan.

I’m told there are ruins of a house on a golf course in Washington, but I haven’t found them. These ruins are what’s left of the former residence of Charles William Forman, a hemp farmer turned missionary to India. Forman tried to establish a mission to the slaves in Washington before leaving to attend the Centre College in Kentucky and then the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Forman settled in Lahore, India (now part of Pakistan). There, he established an English-speaking school, Rang Mahal School. The school added a college in 1865, and Forman continued helping develop the education system in the area.

The college in Lahore, now known as the Forman Christian College, has produced many notable alumni, including former Prime Ministers of both Pakistan and India, Pakistani and Indian senate members and presidents, diplomats, judiciary members, athletes, artists, military officers, journalists and business people.

Now, who among you would have thought that a hemp farmer from Kentucky would have helped create an education system half a world away? Be honest, now.

Visiting historic Washington Village

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The Washington Presbyterian Church was the second one established in the city.

I know there is much and more I missed in my self-guided tour of Washington. If anyone reading has a place, story or anecdote to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear more about the town.

Some of the information in this post came from the washingtonky.com website, but this site is not sponsored by Historic Washington or Maysville and does not appear to have been updated in quite some time. According to the women working in the Visitor’s Center the day I was there, this site was put together by one of the residents of the town. It lists several community events – including a Chocolate Festival – which the village no longer offers. My hosts explained that they had too many events and it was too much for the town and the shop owners to keep up with. The two events that the town still hosts include the Simon Kenton Festival the third weekend in September and the historic Christmas walk the first weekend in December. Plus, historic tours are offered from April through the first week in December.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

But for the weekends when there aren’t events, there are still several shops to check out in Washington.

Phyllis’s Antiques, David’s Brass Works and Elaine’s Gallery and Framing sits at the corner of Main and S. Court Street and carries a wide selection of Fenton glass, and everything you see in the picture to the right.

The 1790 Rowhouse Mall also contains some retail shopping, and was having a sort-of sidewalk sale the day I visited.

My favorite shop was the Strawberry Patch Country Store. It was a store-of-all-sorts with all kind of antique books, keys, tools, baseball cards, electronics, dishes … you name it. Don’t miss the upstairs or the basement.

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The Strawberry Patch Country Store was loaded with antiques. It was my favorite shop in the town.

I did not venture into The Grey Wolf with my backpack full of oxygen; it appeared to have some beautiful items but it was packed wall-to-wall with people. The Iron Gate is next door to The Grey Wolf, but was not open the day I visited.

I would encourage a visit to the nearby Baptist Cemetery when you visit the village. It is just south of main street off US 68. There was no sign for the cemetery, but there is the telltale log cabin standing vigil. Honestly, it appears to be about the only thing watching over the graves because many of the markers are falling or have fallen and broken.

I gave Historic Washington Village a two on the Gus Scale. The village proper is on relatively flat land and was incredibly easy to walk through. I would have rated it a one if not for the bumpy, though beautiful, flagstone sidewalks. If you’re someone who needs to use wheels to get around you won’t have quite as easy a time as I did.

Ohio Day Trip: Covered Bridges

The first road trip of the season is always my favorite. It’s the first time you get to shake the dust off, work out the kinks and get lost trying to find something. The only thing I was waiting for this spring was a free Saturday with clear weather, and I finally got one in late March. It was a chilly day – the high was only around 40 degrees – but the sun was shining and the puffy clouds in the azure sky couldn’t have been more perfect if someone painted them. They were the ideal backdrop for covered bridge hunting in southwestern Ohio.

Ohio has one of the largest collections of covered bridges left in the nation, and seven of them fall in about a 70 square mile area. The path between the bridges will take you along the Ohio River, past Underground Railroad Stations, through the rugged terrain of southern Ohio and over the rolling hills of Amish Country. You’ll pass suburban sprawl and a host of what I affectionately call “dumpy little towns” – the kinds of places I wouldn’t mind living. My dad and brother are into covered bridges in that guy/building kind of way. They like to look at how things are put together and talk about it, you know, knocking on walls and things. Mom and me? We just think they’re pretty. So we loaded into the car Griswold-style and set off.

The route connecting the bridges covers about 75 miles and would take about two hours to complete. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to add time to get to and from the beginning and end of the route and time to explore around the bridges. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have some time to climb around in the creeks (once the weather warms up) and check out all the local businesses you’ll be passing along the way.

I’ve lived in the Greater Cincinnati area my entire life. Part of my childhood was spent in suburban Milford and part of it in more rural Brown County. The rolling corn fields of Brown County are by far my favorite. The only thing that stops me from moving that far off the beaten track is getting to work. I love road trips, but I hate, hate, HATE commuting. Of course, when I lived there 20 years ago the only places to shop were Pamida and IGA and now many of the towns have built up. There are Kroger stores and Wal-mart stores and subdivisions; it’s fallen victim to the ever-permeating suburban sprawl. Still, most of the area is full of stately old farmhouses, dilapidated barns and rolling farmland.

This time of year, the land hasn’t come back to life yet. Trees are still bare and fields are not plowed. The grass is just showing the first hints of green. But the sun is shining and the cows and horses we pass seem as excited for the spring as we are.

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What’s this Road to Nowhere?

Popularly called "The Road to Nowhere," North Carolina Highway 228 construction was halted in the 1970s due to environmental concerns. Residents of the state fought with the Federal Government until 2010 to receive compensation for the unfinished road.

Popularly called “The Road to Nowhere,” North Carolina Highway 228 construction was halted in the 1970s due to environmental concerns. Residents of the state fought with the Federal Government until 2010 to receive compensation for the unfinished road.

In a complete coincidence, I’m bringing you another tale of controversy in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s history. Or maybe it isn’t really a coincidence, its just a throw back to my days of being a newsie. I don’t remember ever actually running around the newsroom screaming, “If it BLEEDS, it LEADS!!!” but knowing me, its entirely within the realm of possibility. Not that I seek out controversy for the sake of it; but it does make for a more interesting plot.

Scene: Another tranquil place in the Smokies. Its late March, around 60 degrees and sunny. Not many birds are out yet, so the only sounds you hear are leaves underfoot and, of course, my breathing. A gentle breeze tickles your arms and makes you grateful for the sun’s warm rays beaming on your scalp. A short walk up a slight incline will take you to the deceptively-long tunnel. I didn’t think there was much to the tunnel, until I was in its belly. Devoid of sunlight, the center of the tunnel swallows any light – including the flashlight on my iPhone that seems so bright when I’m looking for a dropped earring. And remember that gentle breeze? Its turned into a downright cold wind.

I’m visiting Gatlinburg for the second time this year – already more than I’ve been in the last few years. This time around, Mom wanted to go to a quilt show and did not want to go alone. Will I walk around a quilt show with my beloved mother for a nearly-free-for-me trip to Tennessee? Absolutely!

My reward was a day trip into North Carolina the following day. If you go to Bryson City and follow Everett Street out of town, it will dead end eight miles out in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

So, why is there this random road that literally goes nowhere? The answer lies some 50 years ago in the mountains.

The players in this drama are The Aluminum Company of America, who had been building dams in the area to provide power to their plants nearby in Tennessee; the Tennessee Valley Authority, who was concerned about the effects of flooding along the Little Tennessee River; and the United States Department of the Interior, the Big Daddy of the Park Service.

DSC_4164When the Department of the Interior was putting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park together in the 1930s and 40s, it acquired vast tracts of land from Swain County, North Carolina. Part of this tract of land included Highway 288, which connected Bryson City with Deals Gap. This road was left alone – until World War II when growing electricity demands gave someone the bright idea of harnessing the power of the Little Tennessee River. Added bonus: creating a hydroelectric dam would also help produce aluminum for the war effort.

By 1935, when the Tennessee Valley Authority got involved, the Aluminum Company of America was working on the Fontana Dam project. The TVA wanted in on the action, but couldn’t get enough funding to complete the dam until World War II broke out and aluminum was in high demand. Once funding was secured, ALCOA signed their land over to the TVA in exchange for the rights to the output of the dam.

DSC_4141To create the hydroelectric power for the factory, a reservoir would need to be created – present-day Fontana Lake. To accomplish this, 1,311 families, 1,047 graves and over 60 miles of roads had to be relocated – including Highway 288. Four towns – Fontana, Bushnell, Forney and Jusdson – would be covered with water. In exchange, the Department of Interior agreed to create a road – or rather, move Highway 288 – that would allow displaced residents passage to the cemetery on the other side of the lake. This road would also grant access to some of the more remote areas of the Park.

The dam was completed in late November 1944, in time for the closing months of the war. Construction of the new Highway 288 was intermittent until the 1970s when it was halted for good. I’m not entirely clear about what, exactly, the environmental concerns were that halted work 40-odd years ago. I read something about construction releasing toxins from the soil and contaminating water supplies, but that was a comment on a road trip website.

With construction stopped, residents became bitter about what they considered a broken promise and the topic became popular fodder for local politicians. Those who wanted construction to continue said the environmental concerns were exaggerated. Opinions are rampant, even among people with no ties to the region except taking a vacation there once.

DSC_4162It looked like construction could resume after funding was secured for the road in 2000 by a North Carolina Senator, but an environmental study released seven years later said that completing construction would cause too much damage to the area. The controversy reached its end when Swain County agreed to take a cash settlement from the National Park Service in exchange for the road.

Today, the road exists as another testament to the evolution of our national park systems and sacrifices that were made to create our public lands. The Park Service operates a boat in the summer that ferries visitors to the old cemetery and trail heads on the far side of the lake. In winter, lowered lake levels allow hiking in the reservoir basin along the ghost of Highway 288.


I rate my adventures based on oxygen tanks, ranking from one to five based on how taxing the activity is on my pulmonaries.

I rate my adventures based on oxygen tanks, ranking from one to five based on how taxing the activity is on my pulmonaries.

The Gus Scale 

I’m rating this attraction a three because even though its a short hike, there is a slight, extended incline. The road continues past the tunnel and connects to several trails, none of which I explored. There are also opportunities to climb some hills around the tunnel to get to the top.