Commentary: Volunteer effort aims to make Clark County park more accessible to public

What a difference a year can make. Yep, that’s a cliché, but it’s true.

Last year, we just learned about a new county park hidden in a quiet corner of Clark County. Since then, that park has nearly tripled in size and the number of visitors from all over the state and region has increased.

What I’m talking about is the Mad River Gorge. This is the newest park in Clark County Park District and like any one year old child, it is growing like a weed — or should I say, like a well-tended garden.


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The Mad River Gorge is a unique and remote area in Mad River Township. I imagine most people in the county have no idea how to even find it.

You have two options: take Enon’s Main Street northeast until just before it passes over U.S. 68. It’ll be on the left. From Springfield, take Dayton Road southwest until it passes over 68. The Mad River Gorge is after the bridge on the right. This year, there is a nice sign and paved parking lot, which makes finding it easier.

Geologically this place is as spectacular as land forms get in Ohio.

As I was told by Dr. Ben Richards, a former WSU professor, the gorge was formed during an ice age when the flow of a north flowing river was dammed by the advancing glacier. The water accumulated and eventually began to overflow the rim of a temporary lake which covered much of Springfield.

This overflow started as a trickle then grew into a mighty current. Imagine the Mad River today when it is flooding and increase that force and volume. The erosion cut quickly through the soil and then started on the rock layers. As the water level dropped in the lake, the bottom of the stream lowered as well. Eventually, when the ice age was over, the course of the local river had been changed to drain south through this gap.

Today, we all get to enjoy the benefits of this erosion, a beautiful natural stream flowing through a valley lined by straight rocky cliffs on both sides. It has always been hard to get into and a distance from any houses, or much else.

The isolation is one of the terrific things about the Mad River Gorge. Tim Devore, one of the park district commissioners, said the variety of vegetation is impressive because this area was not on the beaten path. This area was never tamed. It is still wild. Birds thrive in such isolation, including a bald eagle that is frequently sighted there.

Last year, the Mad River Gorge only encompassed around 30 acres along the south side of the river. Land acquisition over this last year has added two parcels, a wooded area to the west and more cliffs across the river. The park now has technically 91 acres, said Carol Kennard, Executive Director of the Clark County Park District. This land was purchased using a Clean Ohio Conservation Funding grant.

Kennard explained the land across the river will not be usable until a foot bridge is built, but the new land to the west will be the focus of an event this weekend.

Part of the rules of the grant is 25 percent of the costs must come through local donations. The labor and donated supplies to be used at this next work session will fulfill that obligation.

Adopt a Crag is the second annual volunteer event to make improvements to the gorge and to make it more accessible to the general public.

The park is, after all, not just a climbing park. It is a nature preserve and a geologic wonder hikers will soon love exploring. Those who have explored the gorge say it is as good or better than some of those popular hiking parks in Greene County.

This weekend, park district volunteers will be joined by members of the Ohio Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund Conservation Team. The event is presented this year by Black Diamond, which will provide silent auction and raffle items.

“It is still challenging to get into the gorge,” said Kennard, who recommends a walking stick for hikers.

She is hoping a more gradual slope to enter the gorge will be finished this weekend by the volunteers on the newly acquired land.

Saturday is the work day and more than 200 volunteers from Ohio and adjacent states are expected to work all day on clean up of the new wooded property including removal for more trash and debris, and removal of intrusive species like honeysuckle. The workers will then camp at George Rogers Clark Park and be treated to a free dinner catered by Soin Medical Center. There will be drawings for prizes.

“On Sunday, we play,” Kennard said.

In addition to demonstrations, there will be three climbing instructional sessions for volunteers who are at least 18 years old. Registration for the events and to become a volunteer can be found on the park district's website. The public is invited to register for free nature walks on Sunday, including a bird walk, a tree identification hike and a river study hike.

Local groups who want to help with the clean up should also contact the park district. Recently Maiden Lane church collected 50 pounds of glass. A Geocache club just scheduled a work day, and Scouts are already lining up volunteer hours and Eagle projects. Preserving the Mad River Gorge is a labor of love by our community.

You know, we are the recipients of those who had the forethought to set aside and build parks a century or decades ago. It’s pretty cool thinking that now we have the opportunity to take part in preparation and preservation of a new park that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will enjoy.

What a wonderful legacy this will be.

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