LOGAN — Ohio’s 15th District Congressman Steve Stivers made a stop at the Hocking Hills Visitor Center, Wednesday to take a tour of the new building, along with the members of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Naturalist Pat Quackenbush gave Stivers the tour. As they walked, they discussed the types of animals and wildlife that inhabit Hocking Hills State Park, and what the Visitor Center and overall park means to Hocking County in terms of tourism and the local economy.
“It started the local economy,” Stivers said, as Quackenbush described how Hocking Hills has been said to generate more dollars than certain professional sports teams in Ohio including the Cincinnati Bengals.
They also discussed park safety issues when people stray from the paths. Quackenbush stated 12 to 15 accidents happen each year and one person succumbed to their injuries earlier this year.
“We don’t have serious related injuries from the trail,” Quackenbush remarked. “Our trails are designed to take you to the coolest places. We are not trying to hide anything. You won’t see something spectacular by leaving the trail.”
Quackenbush was extremely pleased that Stivers wanted to take the tour because he felt it showed that he cared about wildlife and is in support of the improvements made to the park.
“Any time we have any politician here, it shows the importance that they feel for this place,” Quackenbush said. “I think in many cases, it means more to them then just a political move. This is something that they like to do too.”
Stivers admitted that he loves hiking on the trails, either alone, or with his children; and he is not alone with the park attracting an approximated four million visitors a year.
The Visitor Center opened June, 24, replacing the over 40-year-old previous visitor’s center. It cost $5 million to build the two-level, 11,000-square-foot facility. They also serve a purpose as an employer.
Quackenbush said the Visitor Center has three crews worth of employees. There are four naturalists who serve as educators by working in the booth at the center or out on the trails.
There are two custodial workers who clean the center all day long. Then there is the six retail staff that work in the gift shop.
Features of the new center include a hiking simulator, indoor cave and others that aim to teach visitors about the geology and history of the Hocking Hills area. The visitors center is currently open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., until the winter months roll in.
Stivers was in a meeting prior to taking the tour, discussing a new lodge near Hocking Hills with ODNR possibly adding an event center and public space to the lodge. He said the goal is to break ground next May and have it open the year after that.