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Fall 2014 newsletter – hot off the ‘presses’

Click on the link below to download a pdf version of the latest newsletter:

GMAS Fall 2014 Newsletter

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Paddling on the straight and narrow

Jerome Fork — Part 9 of ‘The Other Mohican’

Louise Conn Flemming-Dufala and Jim Dufala on Jerome Fork

Louise Conn Flemming-Dufala and Jim Dufala on Jerome Fork

Jerome Fork of the Mohican River helped bring civilization to Ashland County. For some, it now provides a temporary escape from civilization.

Native Americans lived, hunted and grew their corn along its banks. The European immigrants who followed also took advantage of the river, damming it and building mills to power their machinery. Today, three Ashland County Park District parks are located along Jerome Fork and a fourth is just downstream on Lake Fork. Two of them are linked by canoe and kayak access.

Jerome Fork begins less than three miles northeast of Ashland at the confluence of Leidigh Mills Creek and Orange Creek. From its point of origin south of Orange Township Road 1054, this straight and narrow stream flows nearly 15 miles to its confluence with Muddy Fork, which marks the beginning of Lake Fork of the Mohican River.

Jerome Fork used to be considerably longer. The stream once meandered wildly, creating oxbows at some points. However, it was dredged and straightened twice in the earlier part of the Twentieth Century to drain farmland more efficiently. Jerome Fork remains exceptionally straight to this day. An interesting side note: According to records provided by the county engineer’s office, landowners who directly benefited from the dredging used to be assessed for the cost. These days, taxpayers foot the bill.

Jerome Fork in 1914, a meandering stream

Jerome Fork in 1914, a meandering stream

Jeromesville resident and historian Kenny Wise recalled that the second round of dredging was going on in the 1930s, when he was a child. The contractor used a huge steam shovel to deepen the channel.

“I remember they had that shovel on pontoons.” Wise said. “They had to take it apart and put it back together on the water, then take it apart again to get it out of there. To my knowledge, the 1930s was the last time it was cleared out.”

Five years ago, a contractor cleared logjams from 40 linear miles of Jerome and Muddy forks, which helped farmers and made life easier for paddlers.

Wise also recalled that Jerome Fork used to be considerably deeper. Over the years, runoff has filled in the channel, making it a very shallow stream most of the time.

Wise grew up at a time when Jeromesville was basking in the prosperity of its founding fathers. A mill established there in 1836 was still in operation when he was a young man, but it was no longer powered by the river. After flooding in 1910 caused Jerome Fork to back up, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers destroyed the dam that had impounded water to run the mill. According to information provided by Wise and his daughter, LuAnn Graser, the Corps provided funding for the mill’s owners to power it with a gasoline engine. Wise said the gas engine was replaced in 1925 with a diesel-powered model, which was built in Mount Vernon by Cooper-Bessemer, a prominent manufacturer of marine engines.

The mill closed for good in 1952 and the building was razed in 1967. A Cambridge resident took ownership of the diesel engine that had powered the mill for more than a quarter-century.

“We’re trying to get the fellow who has it to bring it for the 200th next year,” Wise said.

Dredging with a steam shovel in the 1930s

Dredging with a steam shovel in the 1930s

Jeromesville will celebrate its bicentennial in the summer of 2015.

The Ashland County Park District is doing its part to preserve Jerome Fork’s heritage by helping a new generation connect with the river. Between 2006 and 2010, the Park District acquired land and established three parks along Jerome Fork and one downstream on Lake Fork.

This was in keeping with the Ashland County comprehensive land use plan in which Jerome Fork was designated a natural corridor. At a 2010 ceremony dedicating Hopkins Landing on County Road 175, the corridor was compared to Cleveland’s Emerald Necklace, a reference to that city’s sprawling Metroparks system. Sam Weyrick, one of the Park District’s three commissioners, referred to the Jerome Fork corridor’s parks as Ashland’s “string of pearls.”

At the top of the string, starting upstream, is Audubon Wetlands Preserve north of U.S. 250 on Township Road 743. Next is River Walk Natural Area on County Road 1500. Volunteers made canoe and kayak landings there and downstream at Hopkins Landing to facilitate short float trips. Cool Springs Wildlife Conservation Area completes the string just downstream of the Jerome Fork and Muddy Fork confluence.

On a Saturday morning in mid July, I set out for a 6.5-mile float from River Walk to Hopkins Landing with Park District volunteer Louise Conn Flemming-Dufala and her husband, Jim Dufala. It’s an easy float, which usually involves some wading at normal water levels. This stretch can be paddled with little or no wading if the river is slightly higher.

However, at high water levels, it can be dangerous. When the river was straightened and dredged, it created high banks on both sides. A river with a natural meander typically has a low bank on one side and eddies at the bends, where paddlers can avoid being swept into obstacles or take out and portage around them. With the straightened channel and high banks on both sides of the river, fast current can drive a boat into a logjam or downed tree, making escape difficult if not impossible.

The straightness of Jerome Fork diminishes its natural beauty somewhat. There’s something about the constantly changing scenery of a meandering river that adds to its enchantment. Jerome Fork lacks that, except in spots where the natural meander has started to return.

Louise, Jim and I did a fair amount of wading. Other from that, it was a pleasant float. Belted kingfishers kept us company for most of the trip. We also saw about four bald eagles along the way. (It’s hard to get an accurate count because sometimes you don’t know if you’re seeing the same bird twice.)

An old iron bridge spans the old Lake Fork channel at Cool Springs Wildlife Conservation Area, one of the Ashland County Park District parks.

An old iron bridge spans the old Lake Fork channel at Cool Springs Wildlife Conservation Area, one of the Ashland County Park District parks.

Mother Nature saved her best for the end of the trip. As we approached the U.S. 30 bridge a bald eagle came into view, gliding high above the tree canopy. A smaller bird — which we were unable to identify — harassed the eagle, trying to drive it out of its territory. The smaller bird gave up after the eagle eluded it by performing some impressive aerial acrobatics.

Park District volunteer Eric Boyer saw a lot more wildlife the following day when he kayaked from River Walk to Hopkins Landing. Paddling solo is the best way to see wildlife.

Boyer reported seeing more than 20 deer including three in the river, several wood ducks, great blue herons, kingfishers, shore birds, a hooded merganser, a mink, raccoon, muskrat, several large fish jumping out of the water, a soft-shell turtle, snapping turtle and — at the last bend before Hopkins Landing — a beaver.

Prior to the 20th Century, the 6.5-mile River Walk to Hopkins Landing trip would have been considerably longer. The natural meander of a river can add miles to its overall length.

Some literature on Jerome Fork has also added miles — about 10 miles. The booklet “A Guide to Ohio Streams” edited by Randall E. Sanders of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources lists Jerome Fork at 24 miles long. That figure also appears in the Gazetteer of Ohio Streams, published by ODNR in 1954 and updated in 2001.

Douglas Leed, spokesman for the Ohio Division of Watercraft said in an email that the reason for the discrepancy is unclear. ODNR is taking steps to address the inconsistencies in state documents.

It’s possible that, prior to being straightened, Jerome Fork would have been 10 miles longer. Although that might be something of a stretch.

Next: Muddy Fork

Paddling Clear Fork – Walking on water

The Other Mohican – Part 8

Kochheiser Road west of I-71

Kochheiser Road west of I-71

When you paddle Clear Fork of the Mohican River, chances are you won’t have company. Unless you bring your own. That’s what I did in late July, when I canoed Clear Fork from west of I-71 to Pine Run.

The trip covered more than half of the 36-mile river, stopping just short of its confluence with Black Fork south of Loudonville. Annette McCormick and Kevin and Theresa Clark joined me for part of the journey.

As mentioned in the previous article, Clear Fork has much to offer in terms of sightseeing and recreational opportunities, but it’s usually too shallow to paddle. At the other extreme, Clear Fork can be treacherous, even for experienced paddlers. It’s a narrow and winding river with an abundance of boulders and fallen trees.



But, when the water level is just right, paddling Clear Fork can be a rewarding experience.

Annette and the Clarks joined me in Bellville, after I’d finished bushwhacking my way down the river from Kochheiser Road off State Route 97. Annette paddled with us as far as Butler, about 5 ½ miles. The Clarks stuck it out for two more days of paddling and camping.

We opted to set up two base camps along the way so we didn’t have to haul our gear down the shallow river. The water level was up slightly from recent rains, but not enough that we didn’t have to get out of our boats and wade occasionally. I used my solo canoe, the others had kayaks.

I had scouted the river by car earlier in the month and decided the Kochheiser Road bridge looked like a promising put-in point for the bushwhacking part of the trip. I had paddled from Bellville to Loudonville on several occasions — some day trips and some overnighters — but had never been on the river upstream of Bellville.

Kevin & Theresa

Kevin & Theresa

I started late in the morning and the plan was to meet the others in Bellville that afternoon. I “guesstimated” that it would take three hours to paddle, drag and carry my canoe the five-plus miles from Kochheiser Road. It proved to be a lucky guess. As I approached the State Route 13 bridge in Butler, Annette, Kevin and Theresa were unloading the kayaks from their vehicles. I had been on the river just over three hours.

About half that time had been spent lifting the canoe over downed trees or lining it around narrow chutes where the current would have otherwise jammed it into a strainer. For the uninitiated, lining is the practice of using a rope from the bank to guide a boat through dangerous water. A strainer is debris in the river, generally tree parts clustered together, that allow water through but not solid objects — such as human bodies.

The river is very narrow in this section, less than 20 feet wide at times. There are about a half-dozen tiny islands and, in some cases, the channels going around the islands are barely six feet wide. Clear Fork does a lot of twisting and turning and this stretch is no exception. Because of this, the scenery tends to change abruptly. With the exception of the I-71 underpass, most of it is pleasant to look at. Like most of Clear Fork, it flows through forests and farmland.

Clear Fork at Mock Road. Watch out for the barbed wire!

Clear Fork at Mock Road. Watch out for the barbed wire!

I wanted to bushwhack this section for two reasons — to see what was up there and to determine how much of it was suitable for paddling. I concluded that, for the adventurous paddler, Clear Fork at the level I ran it is navigable from Mock Road down. The river widens out and becomes deeper at this point and the bends are more gradual. That said, I’d advise caution when putting in at Mock Road. A landowner has strung two strands of barbed wire across the river there and a little further downstream.

I love canoeing because it’s full of surprises and this trip was no exception. A little over a half-mile downstream of Mock Road, I came around a right turn in the river and into a sweeping bend. The high bank on the left side of the river was lined with bleachers. At the end of all this was a wide wooden staircase descending into the water.

I’ve never thought of canoeing as a spectator sport, so I figured the bleachers and steps had been placed there for a different reason. After I’d paddled a mile downstream, the proverbial light bulb flickered on inside my skull: Baptism!

After the trip, I checked on the Internet and found that CitiChurch on State Route 97 was located in the general vicinity. I contacted Adam Drinkard, a team pastor with the church, and he confirmed that the bleachers and steps had been put there for river baptism. He and Tricia E. Kehl, the CitiChurch administrative assistant, told me the bleachers had been moved there from ball diamonds on the property last year with plans to conduct annual baptisms in the river. More than 200 people have been baptized there so far. This year’s mid July baptism was so well-received, a second one was planned for August.

Hours later, I experienced another first in my 34-year paddling career, this time with Annette, Kevin and Theresa.

Is canoeing a spectator sport?

Is canoeing a spectator sport?

After a glorious afternoon on the river, we were getting close to our first campsite at River Trail Crossing outside of Butler. At Gatton Rocks, a local landmark mentioned in the previous article on Clear Fork, we happened upon a high school senior photo shoot in progress. It was quite a spectacle with the heavy-duty camera tripod and massive light reflector set up in the river beneath a huge sandstone outcropping. The photographer, Mark Bohland of Lexington, skillfully worked with his young subject, putting her at ease and coaching her on how to look natural while posing.

We could have paddled through but decided to wait until they were done. We introduced ourselves and they were comfortable with us being there. After a costume change, the shooting continued. The subject, Caitlin Goad, 17, of Lexington High School, wore a frilly blue sequined dress. Apparently the dress wasn’t as delicate as it looked. It took a bit of a soaking, but looked none the worse for wear.

Senior picture photo shoot at Gatton Rocks

Senior picture photo shoot at Gatton Rocks

We continued on our way and, just upstream from the campground, a bald eagle soared across the river in front of us. It was a fitting end to a remarkable day on the river.

In the morning I treated Kevin and Theresa to another one of my campfire specialties, tomato and basil omelets with fresh homegrown ingredients. Basil travels surprisingly well on the river if you know how to do it right. I use one of two techniques: I either take along a small potted plant or I clip branches off a mature plant, place them in beer bottles filled with water and place the bottles in a six-pack carrier. The carrier, when wedged in among your gear, prevents the bottles from tipping over in the canoe. I suppose I could push it to extremes by bringing laying hens along, but I rely on store-bought eggs for that part of the meal.

Morning scene at River Trail Crossing

Morning scene at River Trail Crossing

The river gods smiled upon us that day. Rain was in the forecast and we heard thunder in the distance all afternoon, but all the storms passed around us with nary a drop of rain.

Some of the finest scenery and wildlife-watching on Clear Fork is between Butler and Pleasant Hill Lake. The river meanders through a wide forested valley with plenty of fascinating rock outcroppings along the banks. In this section in particular, the river lives up to its name and you can see fish scurrying away as your boat approaches.

I’m not sure, but I think our stirring up the fish made us popular with the green herons and belted kingfishers. We saw at least a half-dozen green herons that day, including a few that followed us down the river for about a mile. Unlike their cousins, the great blue heron, they aren’t at all timid and we got within eight feet of them at times. Kingfishers were our constant companions throughout the trip. It seemed like you couldn’t swing a catfish without hitting one.


Green heron

We covered a little less than 10 miles that day, including the paddle across the west end of the lake. Our luck ran out about a half-mile away from our campsite. The rain caught up to us, but it had been a hot day so I didn’t bother putting on rain gear.

As we drew closer to the campsite, we were welcomed by three osprey perched in a tree, probably juveniles that had fledged recently from a nearby nest. They put on a quite a show for us, circling overhead in the rain.

Shortly after we landed, the rain stopped.

Some campsites at Pleasant Hill Lake Park are easily accessed from the lake. Camping also is available downstream at the Mohican State Park campgrounds — the so-called class B campground at the covered bridge and the class A campground near State Route 3. Both have riverfront sites.

We had plenty of company with the mosquitoes at our Pleasant Hill campsite. In the morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast (except for the barnstorming lawnmower). This time I made my infamous veggie, egg and cheese medley — otherwise know as glop.

After breakfast, we set out to paddle the most spectacular part of the river, Clear Fork Gorge. Here the river flows through a valley 300 feet deep and 1,000 feet wide and lined with mature forest and sandstone outcroppings. At the class B campground, the river flows beneath a covered bridge, one of many landmarks along Clear Fork.

To get to this 4.8-mile stretch of river, we had to paddle a mile and a half across the eastern part of Pleasant Hill Lake — through a gauntlet of speedboats and jet skis. Pleasant Hill Dam is a relatively easy portage, especially with empty boats. It’s even easier in the winter, when you can ride your boat down to the river on the back side of the snow-covered earthen dam.

There are islands on some of the river bends past the covered bridge. Deciding which side to paddle around can be a crap shoot because you can’t tell whether there are downed trees or strainers behind the islands until it’s too late. At low water, this isn’t a problem; at high water levels, it can get dicey.

Paddling this section has been made easier by chutes formed by tourists piling rocks in the river. Kevin, Theresa and I couldn’t take full advantage of this because the river was jammed with dozens of children — and a few adults — floating along in inner tubes.

Most were Mennonites, dressed in modest clothing. Paddling the Mohican River, especially on the crowded stretches, you expect to see people drifting lazily along in inner tubes. But this was another first for me, seeing inner tube after inner tube, each with two or three girls in their swimming dresses or boys in their calf-length trousers and buttoned shirts.

You never know what to expect on the river — except for the unexpected.

As we neared the end of our journey, a bald eagle took off from a tree limb overhanging the river and gracefully glided downstream. The river gods had smiled upon us again.

Next: Jerome Fork

Reviving a Dying Friend

We didn’t know what to expect when the motor idled down and the pontoon boat bellied up to the dock. Laurie jumped out and secured the front line. Her husband, Ken, steadied the boat and my father stepped ashore, mindfully planting one foot on the waterlogged dock before committing to lift his other foot off the boat.
It reminded me of the time a few years back, when I took my father to see his old friend, Jonas, an Amish farmer who he hadn’t seen in probably a quarter-century. Both were in their mid 80s.
On this day, my brother Jeff and I had taken my father to be reunited with another old friend, Whip-Poor-Will Lodge. We stopped going there five years ago, when it became apparent that the new owner was running it into the ground. Dad had been going there for many years. For him, it was a special, if not sacred, place — as it had become for my brother and me when we started going there with him seven or eight years ago.
“It’s like watching an old friend die,” he said at the time.
We didn’t have the stomach to watch Whip-Poor-Will Lodge die a slow death. We went elsewhere for our yearly father-son fishing trips, other lodges in central Ontario.
In November, Whip-Poor-Will changed hands and, because it had gone into the Canadian equivalent of foreclosure, the name had to be changed. It’s now Dollars Lake Island Resort. The one-acre island has a long way to go until it’s worthy of being called a resort. And plenty of dollars.
The wooden dock, which had been so well-maintained, remains solid but the boards show telltale signs of rot. The maintenance dock has been stripped of its deck. The cabins look to be structurally sound, but sadly in need of a facelift.
What hit us the hardest was the desolation. It was mid August and the lodge we had known and loved should have shown signs of life — a reassuring undercurrent of activity, lights on in the kitchen window, happy voices, a fishing boat idling at the dock. But there was nothing. Nothing save for a few rods and fishing tackle strewn along the edge of the dock.
After we surveyed the dock near the bait shed — the place where my father, brother and I nursed our morning coffee all those years — Ken and Laurie led us up the rock walkway to the dining hall.
We stepped inside to find a reassuring sign: The kitchen floor had been ripped out, exposing the sub flooring. A work in progress, a ray of hope.
Inside the dining room, where we had lingered over meals and small talk, the new owners had set up a Whip-Poor-Will Lodge shrine on a long table.
Among the items on display was a stack of small plaques that read “Your mission statement — Relax.”
The previous owners, the good ones, had posted them in each cabin. To me, that message became a mantra for the week we spent there. Anytime I found myself distracted by thoughts of work or other stray concerns, those words would snap me out of it.
The previous owners made it clear that this was their mission, to create a place where your only obligation was to relax.
Apparently, the owner who had run the place into the ground misinterpreted that message, thinking it applied to him. He’d sit at his computer playing games or buzz the island on his jet ski, leaving the guests and the infrastructure to fend for themselves.
Ken and Laurie have the monumental task of atoning for his sins. Removing the bad karma will be the easy part. Reviving the infrastructure will require a tremendous investment of time, labor and money. Perhaps harder still will be reviving or creating the atmosphere that made the island a magical place for all of us guests.
Only time will tell if they succeed.
But, as my favorite Canadian, Red Green, would say, “Remember, I’m pulling for you — because we’re all in this together.”


Dad and the new lodge owners, Ken and Laurie Terreberry, talk about the lodge — past and present — over coffee in the dining hall.


My father and brother check out memorabilia at a shrine of sorts set up in the dining room.


The Other Mohican, Part 7 – Clear Fork

Ghost towns, gold panning, a giant cement funnel …

What more could you ask?

Entering Clear Fork Gorge

Entering Clear Fork Gorge

For recreational opportunities, Clear Fork clearly rivals the rest of the Mohican River.

The lower Black Fork and mainstream of the Mohican — officially recognized as the canoeing capital of Ohio — draw more visitors during tourist season. But, mile for mile, Clear Fork offers a wider variety of activities and attractions.

Meandering more than 36 miles from Ontario to Loudonville, Clear Fork boasts a reservoir, a lake, a gold prospecting camp, hunting, trout fishing, two dams, two ghost towns, a morning glory spillway, a state park and lodge, paved bike path, campgrounds, a state forest and assorted landmarks. The latter includes the Mohican State Park covered bridge and the Clear Fork Gorge Overlook, known for its spectacular view of the forest and river valley.

A shallow stream for the most part, Clear Fork also offers limited — but very rewarding — paddling opportunities. This will be covered in a subsequent article.

Add to the list of the Clear Fork’s attractions a city park. Although that might be a bit of a stretch. Most people using Marshall Park in Ontario probably don’t realize that the rock-lined ditch running along Cal Miller Lane is Clear Fork of the Mohican River.

Clear Fork at Lexington Ontario Road

Clear Fork at Lexington Ontario Road

Clear Fork originates at the outlet of a small pond north of the park. However, the pond provides only a trickle of water, which doesn’t go anywhere until heavy rains fill a network of stream beds feeding the intermittent creek that is the beginning of Clear Fork. By the time Clear Fork reaches Lexington Ontario Road, it’s no longer intermittent. It gradually grows wider and deeper, though not much, as it winds through a wide valley to where it is impounded by Clear Fork Dam.

The dam was built in 1949 to create a reservoir for the City of Mansfield. The 997-acre reservoir reaches depths of 40 feet and has 14 miles of shoreline. It offers a variety of recreational opportunities including fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, bird-watching and camping. Like Charles Mill Lake, an impoundment of Black Fork, the reservoir serves as a stopping-off point for migratory birds, including species not commonly seen in this area. The same is true of Pleasant Hill Lake further downstream.

Mohican State Park covered bridge

Mohican State Park covered bridge

Clear Fork starts to look more like a river where it crosses Lexington Ontario Road for a second time north of Lexington. Just downstream from here is the old Lexington Ontario Road bridge — now a private driveway off Cockley Road. A cast-iron plaque mounted on the structure above its wooden deck lists the year it was built — 1915 — and the names of the county commissioners and county engineer at the time. This is one of several iron truss bridges spanning Clear Fork. These older-style bridges add to the river’s rustic charm.

The Richland B&O Trail crosses paths with Clear Fork at Lexingon Park and they continue on parallel paths for nearly 12 miles. The 14.8-mile recreational path is shared by bicyclists, pedestrians, inline skaters and others — pretty much anything without a motor — and runs from North Lake Park in Mansfield to Butler.

Gatton Rocks, a well-known landmark locally, can be found just upstream of Butler. Sandstone outcroppings jut out from a forested hillside on one side of the river, creating a picturesque backdrop. Along this stretch is one of several swimming holes popular with the locals in the summer months.

Stoffer Road bridge

Stoffer Road bridge

In the Gatton Rocks section — specifically between Stoffer and Cutnaw roads — is one of two places on Clear Fork stocked with brown trout. The other stretch is below Pleasant Hill Dam. Both are popular fly-fishing spots, particularly in October when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources releases about 10,000 fingerling trout.

Clear Fork’s rock, gravel and sand bottom — along with a natural meander and succession of riffles and pools — makes it one of the highest-quality fishing streams in the state.

Anglers working the Gatton Rocks stretch might find themselves sharing the river with prospectors panning for gold. Downstream of the Cutnaw Road bridge is a one-mile section of river known as the Swank Claim. The Gold Prospectors Association of America has established a primitive campground there on leased land where members can stay and pan for gold.

The small pieces of gold were among the rocks and boulders pushed down from Canada by glaciers. According to information posted on a GPAA Website, one gold nugget panned in the Swank Claim was valued at $50,000.

Between Clear Fork Reservoir and Pleasant Hill Lake, the river flows through five towns — two of which have vanished from the face of the earth. Lexington, Bellville and Butler are still alive and kicking, but Newville and Helltown Indian village are ghost towns.

Seems that Newville was ill-fated from the start. The village was established in 1823 in the vicinity of what is now Pleasant Hill Road east of State Route 95. The founding fathers had hoped it would thrive and become the Richland County seat, but that was not to be. Railroads were the key to prosperity and the B&O and Pennsylvania railroads bypassed Newville, opting to run their tracks through Butler and Perrysville respectively.

Clear Fork Dam

Clear Fork Dam

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Pleasant Hill Dam in the mid 1930s, the project designers wrongly believed that the lake it created would back up to the village. The buildings were razed or moved to higher ground and the villagers relocated.

Helltown also was destined for oblivion. Located further downstream, it was named after the river. The name was derived from “hell,” a German word for “clear.” The inhabitants abandoned the village in 1782 and scattered after learning about the massacre of Moravian Indians at Gnadenhutton. Some of the residents, primarily Delaware, went on to establish Greentown Indian village along Black Fork north of Perrysville, which was mentioned in a previous article on that branch of the Mohican River.

Pleasant Hill Lake is popular with anglers and power boaters. With 850 surface acres and 13 miles of shoreline, there are plenty of places to fish for bass and other species of game fish, including an occasional muskellunge. However, even on a still day anglers can count on the water being choppy because there is no horsepower limit on the lake. During the summer months, it’s abuzz with jet skis and powerboats.

Humble beginnings – Clear Fork in Marshall Park

Humble beginnings – Clear Fork in Marshall Park

The high-octane boating activity is concentrated on the eastern part of the lake toward the dam, where the water is up to 40 feet deep. Things tend to be quieter on the western end of the lake, which is designated a no-wake zone.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District owns and operates Pleasant Hill Lake Park, which offers camping and other recreational activities.

The lake was formed by the construction of Pleasant Hill Dam. It’s one of 14 built in the mid 1930s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to chronic flooding along the Muskingum Watershed. The dam’s claim to fame is its morning glory spillway, another popular landmark.

Morning glory spillways are also known as bell-mouth spillways, shaft spillways and by other names and can be found around the world. They often function as an uncontrolled method of draining off lake overflow. That’s not the case with Pleasant Hill Dam. The lake level is controlled by a set of gates housed inside a structure next to the spillway and accessed from the dam by a narrow bridge. The Pleasant Hill spillway would act as an overflow device in case the lake were to reach 1,065 feet above sea level. It never has. In fact, the water level has never breached any of the spillways on the Muskingum Watershed’s 14 flood control dams. The pool of record for Pleasant Hill Dam is 1,044.01 feet set on Jan. 23, 1959. Note — It was later brought to my attention that Wills Creek Dam, on a tributary of the Muskingum River, overflowed its spillway by 0.36 inch in January 2005.

Clear Fork entering the reservoir at Orweiler Road

Clear Fork entering the reservoir at Orweiler Road

Clear Fork saves its best for last. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular in the 4.8-mile stretch between the dam and the confluence of Black Fork. This is where the river flows through Clear Fork Gorge, which is known for its diverse flora and fauna. It’s easy to see why this section was included when the mainstream of the Mohican was designated a state scenic river in 2006.

In this stretch, Clear Fork flows through a steep, 300-foot-deep gorge lined with mature pine and hardwood forests and sandstone outcroppings. Most of this section is within the Mohican Memorial State Forest and flows past the primitive and main campgrounds of Mohican State Park.

Clear Fork’s most popular landmark, the Mohican State Park covered bridge, spans the river a little less than a mile downstream of the dam near the primitive campground. The bridge was designed by Loudonville resident Stan Pace and completed in 1970. Work began two years earlier. The1969 flood damaged one of the trusses during construction, but not beyond repair.

According to Loudonville historian Lee Cavin, it replaced an iron truss bridge that originally spanned the river upstream of where the dam was built. That bridge, which was not covered, was dismantled by Civilian Conservation Corps workers and reassembled at what would become the site of the covered bridge.

Pace’s design incorporated walkways on both sides of the covered bridge where pedestrians could be segregated from traffic and enjoy a clear view of the river. The bridge links trails on both sides of Clear Fork, including one that leads to Lyon’s Falls, another area landmark.

Toward the end, Clear Fork emerges from its idyllic setting and is quickly absorbed into Loudonville’s tourist Mecca. For the last mile and a half, it flows through the Mohican State Park main campground, under Ohio 3 and arrives at the confluence of Black Fork — and the canoeing capital of Ohio.

Next: Paddling Clear Fork