LOGAN — After over 13 months since the groundbreaking, the public can finally view and visit the new Hocking Hills Visitors Center at the Hocking Hills State Park.
The $5 million, two-level, roughly 11,000-square-foot facility is open to the public and will be a huge improvement to the experience everyone shares as they visit the Hocking Hills Region. The old visitors center was more than 40 years old and simply couldn’t accommodate the roughly four million visitors the area receives each year.
The grand opening held Monday afternoon hosted many public figures, representatives and even visitors interested in attending. Special guests included Ohio Governor Mike DeWine; a representative from Steve Stivers’ office; a representative from Ron Hood’s office; Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz; Chief of Parks and Watercraft Glen Cobb; the Friends of Hocking Hills President Julieann Burroughs; Hocking Hills Tourism Association Executive Director Karen Raymore; Appalachian Outfitters (display sponsor); as well as the Hocking Hills State Park staff and other ODNR personnel.
The new center is fully ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible with many features explaining the history of the area and what hikers can expect. Additionally, there will be less waiting in line for restrooms, as there is almost an entire bottom floor with several restrooms.
Mertz stated she had been looking forward to this day ever since she came into office in January. She also recognized the many organizations who had a helping hand in process to create this state of the art visitors center, including a thanks to former ODNR director, James Zehringer.
“And to our park staff, I can’t say enough good things about them. They’ve been wonderful hosts to those of us who come and go. They’ve kept this park going for the millions of visitors despite the disturbances, they’ve put up with me showing up randomly to check up on the construction,” mentioned Mertz.
DeWine recognized the beautiful state parks Ohio has to offer and one of the gems is Hocking Hills. Referring to an article written by The New York Times, the Hocking Hills State Park was one of the top parks to visit within the nation.
“What we’re celebrating today is really — I’m just very, very, excited about. As we know, Hocking Hills State Park is among the most scenic in the state and frankly, probably one of the most scenic in the country. Whether you’re exploring the magic of Whispering Cave or getting that perfect photo at Cedar Falls, Hocking Hills offers something different, every day, every season, every year,” stated DeWine.
Following the ribbon-cutting, everyone gathered for a photo with DeWine in front of the building and ventured inside to check out the spectacular features the center offers.
The facility has displays located on the upper level of the building focused on helping visitors plan their day, navigate the Hocking Hills State Park, the Hocking State Forest, and nearby state nature preserves; learn about the trails systems; and address the safety considerations of hiking the trails.
The lower level of the building takes visitors through the history and ecology of the Hocking Hills Region. A large-scale cave built into the center of the room gives visitors a unique experience learning about the one-of-a-kind geology of gorges in the area.
Restrooms and water bottle filling stations are also located on the lower level; and an information desk and gift store are located on the upper level.
Visitors to the center also will learn about some of the little-known wonders and history of the Hocking Hills area and how the state’s foresters and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a central role in preserving and protecting the wonders of the region for future generations.
Touring the new facility was Nate Gleason from the Marysville area, who came with his family and visits the state park roughly 35 times a year. The grand opening of the visitors center has been something they’ve been looking forward to for months.
“It’s super cool to see something new come around, nothing like this ever happens in Hocking Hills so it’s a good change,” remarked Gleason.
Having DeWine at the grand opening was also a huge bonus for Nate and his mother, Brandy, who are big fans.
“I think it’s important because it shows that our government agencies are excited about promoting our natural resources, our Ohio State parks, and that is great for our state and the Hocking Hills Region,” commented Brandy.
There are many features about the building to be discovered by visitors when they travel to the region to explore the caves, but one feature Kayson White and his father Chad were most excited about is the hiking simulator.
“This is nice, especially for people who have never hiked before. I think it gives real feel to somebody before they get out on the trail, it’s a nice touch,” shared Chad.
The White family has coincidently been hiking in the area when they heard about the grand opening and decided to check it out. They all were very impressed and Kayson said his favorite trail so far is Old Man’s Cave.
At the end of DeWine’s speech he gave a sneak peek into what to expect for the future of Hocking Hills State Park.
“Next up… will be the rebuilding of the Hocking Hills Lodge. And we are still working on the design and the reason we’re still working on it is we want to get it right. It will be the crown jewel of all the lodges in the State of Ohio,” concluded DeWine.