Is There Life After Frye’s Landing?
Paddling a Less-traveled Section of the Mohican River
For many Mohican River paddlers, Frye’s Landing is the last stop. Most day-trips end there or at one of the other canoe livery takeout points a little further downstream.
A few hearty souls might venture as far as Greer or Brinkhaven. Those who do, are rewarded with a glimpse of the more-pristine stretches of the Mohican River. Furthermore, they don’t have to deal with logjams because the river widens and — with rare exceptions — fallen trees don’t create total blockage. It’s about 25 miles from Frye’s Landing to the confluence with the Kokosing River, offering paddlers many options for day trips or overnight excursions.
For those dependent on creature comforts, such as flush toilets and showers, there are private campgrounds along the way. Heartier souls camp on islands further downstream.
On June 5-7, I paddled this stretch — and beyond to Mohawk Dam — stopping to camp along the way. For this week’s article, we’ll look at the Mohican River from Frye’s Landing to Brinkhaven. Next week, we’ll cover Brinkhaven to Mohawk.
Frye’s Landing is a little less than a mile downstream from the confluence of Lake Fork. It’s named after the late Dick Frye, the father of Ohio’s canoe livery industry. Frye started the state’s first commercial livery in 1961, renting his own canoe from the back of a station wagon on state-owned land at Ohio 3 and Ohio 97. His modest operation spawned an industry that would earn Loudonville the official designation of Canoeing Capital of Ohio.
Frye’s venture also catapulted the region’s campground business. In addition to the original Mohican State Park facilities on Clear Fork of the Mohican River, private campgrounds sprang up along the river. That includes four between Frye’s Landing and Brinkhaven: Mohican Reservation, Mohican Wilderness, a primitive campground at Greer (affiliated with Mohican Reservation) and Whip-Poor-Will Hills.
On this trip, my friends Kevin and Theresa Clark of rural Loudonville arranged to join me for a night of camping at Mohican Wilderness followed by a day on the river. We would part company at the once-thriving village of Cavallo. From there, I’d spend another night and day on the river, eventually taking out at Mohawk Dam. The dam is six miles downstream from where the Mohican and Kokosing meet to form the Walhonding River.
After a hearty breakfast of chili omelets — one of my campfire specialties — we set up a shuttle, taking Kevin’s truck to Cavallo, five miles downstream from Brinkhaven.
It was late morning when we set out on the river from Mohican Wilderness. I was paddling my 17-foot aluminum canoe; Kevin and Theresa were in kayaks.
It was a sunny, pleasant day. Thanks to more than an inch of rain two days earlier, the river was up and moving. At normal levels, the Mohican is rated International Class I, suitable for all skill levels.
As we made our way downstream, I pointed out various landmarks including an A-frame structure that housed Frye’s original canoe landing at Greer. Over the years, the A-frame has nearly been obliterated by the house built around it by Bill Conrad. Long active in promoting the region, Conrad bought the A-frame from the state after it had fallen into disuse and disrepair. He moved it upstream to its present location.
I told Kevin and Theresa that, when I first paddled past Conrad’s house 34 years ago, I saw what I believed to be a voluptuous woman silhouetted in a window of the A-frame. I waved. When I paddled by the following year, she was there again. So I waved. This went on for a few more times until I realized that I had been waving at a life-size cardboard cutout of Dolly Parton.
I blamed my faux pas on poor eyesight and the prodigious amounts of beer that fueled my early canoe trips. I met Conrad years later and told him about my encounters with Dolly. He assured me that I wasn’t the only one to be fooled by the cardboard Dolly.
For the record, Dolly never waved back.
Conrad’s place is just upstream from Greer, which is a little more than three miles from Mohican Wilderness. Greer’s public river access, just past the Ohio 514 bridge, serves as a takeout or starting point for day trips and overnighters.
Originally called Greerville, the village once boasted two hardware stores and a Post Office, which later became a dancehall. Greer also served as a stop on the Walhonding Valley Railroad, more commonly known as the Wally. Greer’s status as a commercial center faded over time. A smattering of houses and a church remain.
The river appears to have been channelized downstream of the access point, creating a straight, shallow section. Less than a mile downstream, the Mohican reverts to its natural meander and becomes more pristine with steep hills, forests and occasional farm fields along the banks. After flowing under the Brinkhaven Road bridge, the river turns sharply to the right at one of its most scenic points — Alum Rock.
As the river emerges from the bend, an intermittent stream enters from the east side. At that point, stunning rock outcroppings jut out of hillsides on either side of the stream. The most impressive part lies just beyond the stream, where an outcropping protrudes from the side of a 300-foot hill forested with pines and hardwoods. This is best viewed in the fall or early spring.
As we approached the former Camp Nelson Dodd, I told Kevin and Theresa about the tragedy that struck there in May 1969. At one time, a swinging bridge spanned the river at the camp, which was established in 1921 by the YMCA. It’s now operated by Joy of Living Ministries and serves as a camp for disadvantaged or at-risk children.
On that fateful day 45 years ago, the Mohican River was running high and a group of children had gone out onto the bridge. According to a story in the Toledo Blade, the bridge sagged under their weight, the raging current snagged it and swept 14 children into the river. Thirteen of them were rescued; an 11-year-old girl drowned.
In front of the camp, the river bends sharply to the right at the head of an island, then gradually sweeps back to the left. The current drives directly into the head of the island. Navigating it can be tricky, as Kevin found out.
His kayak was swept into a log pile and capsized. For an anxious moment, we lost sight of Kevin. A few seconds later — which seemed like an eternity — he surfaced on the other side of the log pile and made his way to the bank on the island. His kayak popped loose from the log pile. Theresa and I corralled it along with his paddle and we were reunited with Kevin at the foot of the island.
None the worse for wear, but minus his glasses, Kevin eased back into his kayak and we headed downstream to Brinkhaven — and more turbulent waters at the old low-head dam.
Next week: Brinkhaven to Mohawk Dam.