Cottrel: Unknown Clark County treasure opens this weekend

The Mad River Gorge and Nature Preserve will open to the public on Sunday.

A dream coming true is a marvelous thing, but when that dream is shared by hundreds of people it is difficult to find a word big enough.

This weekend is more important for Clark County than most of us realize.

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A new park is opening. But this is not the usual park with swing sets and picnic tables. This weekend, one of Clark County’s unknown natural treasures is going to be open to the public for the first time.

Located in an inaccessible corner of the county, the Mad River Gorge has only been glimpsed as motorists cross a bridge on State Route 68 just south of the Masonic Home. The only people who have really seen it for the most part have been paddlers in canoes floating down the Mad River and the few who ventured through the overgrown empty area to climb the tall cliffs.

Thousands of years ago, when the Mad River cut through layers of limestone during the ice ages, a steep narrow valley, called a gorge, was formed. The two opposing cliffs overlook an area filled with untouched flora and fauna, and protect the valley from outside sounds.

The river runs its natural meandering course through this gorge creating sand banks perfect for picnics. The gorge and valley rival other picturesque hiking parks in this area, but there is one big problem — you could not get there from here.

The gorge was entirely surrounded by private land. The height of the cliffs created an isolation that protected the gorge, but also made it inaccessible.

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The tallest cliffs are more than 40 feet, and clearly display rock layers. In the gorge there are, according to enthusiasts, cliffs suitable for climbers of all skill levels.

As Clark County Park Director Carol Kennard told me it was these climbers who first suggested making these perfect cliffs more accessible. They have been dreaming about it for decades.

When the former Clearview Mobile Home Park, 2710 Dayton-Springfield Road, went out of business, the land at the top of the cliffs became available. The park district acquired it. Piece by piece land along the river has been acquired and now a park can be established with the access point being the former Clearview site.

The next problem was preparation. Over the years, trash has been thrown off the cliffs into this inaccessible place. It was one of those out of sight, out of mind kind of places and lots of stuff accumulated.

Clean up would become the next barrier. But the same climbers who are undaunted by 40 foot cliffs saw this as a challenge they could handle. A coalition of climbing groups have agreed to work together to get this park cleaned up with the help of the park district, donated equipment services, and local volunteers. The list of sponsors and partners for this place numbers more than 75 and includes businesses, clubs, agencies, and departments. The private sector and public sector are working together. For a complete list see

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On Saturday, hundreds of climbers and nature enthusiasts from all over the state and adjacent states will converge on the Mad River Gorge for an event called Adopt a Crag.

As Kennard explained it, the trash and accumulated debris is being collected in large containers that will be lifted via a crane. Then taken to a more proper disposal place.

The volunteers will also be working on clearing hiking trails, constructing natural stairs, and setting up climbing routes. Some will be camping at the old Clearview site above the gorge and others will camp at the new Rock City Resort, which was formerly the Bass Lake Campground, just off Old Mill Road. There will be vendors, food trucks, and fun for the volunteers on Saturday.

Volunteer workers are still being accepted. Call the park district at 937-882-6000, or visit the Ohio Climbers Coalition website at to sign up. This group has tirelessly worked on this project and truly lives up to its motto which is “Promote Access. Protect Nature. Climb Local.”

On Sunday at noon the Clark County Park District will dedicate The ribbon cutting event which is open to the public will be followed by climbing demonstrations, guided nature walks and more including the firing of the park district’s full sized cannon.

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The ribbon cutting is just the beginning for this park and nature preserve. There are plans for expanding across the river and building a foot bridge for access to the cliffs and trails on the opposite side. Extension of the bike trail into the gorge may eventually become possible.

It is hoped that this preserve becomes a center for study. Dr. John Ritter of Wittenberg has complied a geologic description of the gorge. and no doubt geology students will love it. Naturalists have been studying the flora and fauna.

There are so many possibilities here. No wonder the park offices at the Davidson Center on Lower Valley Pike is filled with excitement. So many fascinating programs are now possible.

This is also very important to our local economy as climbers and hikers from Ohio and adjacent states come to our county to visit and hopefully spend some time looking around to see what else Clark County has to offer.

It is amazing how things have gone full circle here in Clark County. People came here for the easily accessible always flowing water that ran their mills and carried their produce to markets. Now more than 200 years later, the Mad River continues to draw people here.

Taking good care of this waterway has to be a priority in all we do. If we take care of our water, it will take care of us.

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