‘Big Fin’ – Honey Creek monster predated bigfoot


Illustration by Joe Hughes

Long before Big Foot reached out with his big hairy mitt and grabbed headlines, speculation of a Loch Ness type Monster in Honey Creek made local newspapers.

It all started in 1915, more than 40 years before the first known newspaper account of a Big Foot sighting. The Loudonville papers reported that Shannon Simms found a mastodon tusk in Honey Creek on his farm about five miles north of town. From there, the story grew flippers and took on a life of its own.


Loudonville resident and local historian Sarah England recently shared some newspaper clippings from 1915 and 1927 chronicling the evolution of the Honey Creek Monster.

According to the 1915 articles, Simms’ discovery caused quite a stir. He put the eight-foot long tusk on display in the window of Covert’s Drug Store in Loudonville (now Danner Pharmacy). The spectacle drew a big crowd — and perhaps a windfall for the drug store.

However, mastodon remains were pretty common and the excitement died off just as mastodons had 5,000 years earlier.

Twelve years later, a West Butler chiropractor resurrected the story. While excavating mastodon bones on Simms’ farm, Dr. W.A. Moore claimed to have found evidence that at least one of the giant beasts lurking in the waters of Honey Creek had flippers!

In June 1927, P.J. Bailey reported in the Loudonville Times that Moore’s discovery drew people to the excavation site from as far away as Chicago. Sightseers’ vehicles lined both sides of what is now County Road 2654 for a quarter mile.

In an article dated June 30, 1927, Bailey waxed eloquent, dancing a frantic jig along the fine line between reporting and editorializing.

“It is conjecture that it may have been some sort of creature that formerly inhabited the prehistoric swamps of the Honey Creek region, and which had flippers instead of feet to aid its locomotion through the water and ooze of the vast swamp,” Bailey wrote.

Bailey went on to suggest that Dr. Moore’s discovery of this “prehistoric monster” would likely create a sensation in the scientific world and put Loudonville on the map.

“It is especially fortunate for the people of Ohio that the remains were found conveniently close to the famous Three C Highway, which makes it easy to reach the excavations by automobile after a pleasant drive over splendid roads through the finest scenery in the Middle West.” Bailey wrote.

In spite of the hype, the Honey Creek Monster never lived up to expectations. The story — like the mastodons and whatever it was Dr. Moore claimed to have found — were doomed to extinction.

However, Bailey’s words proved prophetic. It was Dick Frye who put Loudonville on the map in 1961 by founding Ohio’s first canoe livery. Loudonville became the canoe capital of Ohio and Frye’s vision led millions to discover — as Bailey said — that this area boasts the finest scenery in the Middle West.

That’s why folks around here call it, “God’s country.”

You’ve got to admit it has a better ring to it than “Godzilla’s country.”

Paddling into obsolescence at a leisurely pace

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Reflection on the water of billowing smokestacks at the Conesville Power Plant on the Muskingum River — like everything and everyone, destined for obsolescence.

We hadn’t yet paddled out of Coshocton when the Conesville Power Plant smokestacks came into sight. From there they look so close, but veteran Muskingum River paddlers know better; Conesville is more than five miles downstream of Coshocton.

That’s about an 80-minute paddle if you’re in a hurry. I never am. To me, that defeats the purpose of canoeing. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

My canoe partner for this trip, Ken Arthur, was OK with that. He’s all about exploring and discovery.

It was Ken’s first ever glimpse of the Conesville stacks — at least from the river. But, for both of us, it might have been the last time seeing them belching smoke. American Electric Power plans to close the 62-year-old coal-burning power plant at the end of May 2020.

According to a Coshocton Tribune article written by Leonard Hayhurst, the Conesville plant has become obsolete — another casualty of the flagging domestic coal market. It has been a slow painful death.

“In October 2017, the plant was devalued by the Ohio Department of Taxation, going from $72.2 million to $34.7 million due to coal-fired plants being not as valuable in the energy market as natural gas facilities,” Hayhurst wrote in October 2018. “This resulted in close to $2 million in revenue lost to local entities. The hardest hit dollars wise was River View Local Schools at $1.18 million annually and the biggest percentage drop was to Franklin Township which lost more than half of its annual budget at $87,193.”

Paddle upstream — physically and in time — and a similar scenario played out about 100 years ago.

Railroads had rendered canals obsolete. That included the Walhonding Canal, which I mentioned in previous columns. (Earlier in this trip, Ken and I portaged Six Mile Dam on the Walhonding River, where Lock 5 of the canal had been.) Six Mile Dam, which is between the town of Warsaw and Coshocton, was repurposed. The canal was reengineered to channel water down to the Village of Roscoe to power a hydroelectric plant. That also became obsolete; no doubt a casualty of coal-burning power plants.

Now the dam has become obsolete. It’s become a liability due to an undermined wing wall. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has slated it for removal around this time next year.

Traveling upstream even further in time — more than 2,500 years ago — Greek philosopher Hiraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Clearly, this stretch of the Walhonding and Muskingum rivers will not be the same. It will be much different without the dam and Conesville’s belching smokestacks.

Time will have changed us as well. This canoe trip served as a reminder that all of us are destined for obsolescence. As I said earlier, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

This was one of a series of five columns on my September 2019 canoe trip from Mohawk Dam to Dresden, Ohio on the Walhondong and Muskingum rivers.



Oriental Bittersweet – Strangling Our Landscape

I’m posting this with the hope that park managers and other government officials will start taking this invasive plant seriously and do something about it NOW. (Originally written for the Greater Mohican Audubon Newsletter.)

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Oriental bittersweet berries. Pretty — devastating.

There’s nothing sweet about Oriental bittersweet. Unless it’s watching the leaves wither up after cutting the vines or treating it with herbicide.

But don’t be lulled by temporary successes in controlling Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). This aggressive invasive is tenacious. And it seems to have more friends than enemies.

In a 2018 article on Buckeye Yard & Garden onLine, Amy Stone refers to Oriental bittersweet as the “kudzu of the north.”

“Oriental bittersweet is invasive vine that is native to China, Japan and Korea,” Stone wrote in her article. “It was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant around 1860. This deciduous, woody, twining vine can climb on trees, shrubs and anything else in its way.”

It was also introduced for erosion control, similar that notorious invasive Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica).

Yes, like so many other invasive plants, careless or clueless entrepreneurs introduced Oriental bittersweet to the U.S. To make matters worse, Oriental bittersweet is still sold here and prized for its colorful berries, which are used as decorations.

It’s easy to see where that could go awry. It’s bad enough that birds are spreading the seeds far and wide. Add to that well-meaning consumers spreading a little holiday joy — along with a nasty invasive vegetation.

Oriental bittersweet should not be confused with native American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). But it can be. There are subtle differences between them. However, Stone advises that, “To add to the possible confusion, the two different species in the same genus (Celastrus) are crossing and producing plants that sometimes have characteristics of both the native and non-native species.”

What does it look like?

The University of Maryland Extension provides this description:

Growth habit: climbing, deciduous vine; leaves rounded to obovate, alternate, simple with bluntly toothed margins.

Reproduction: seed; flowers are inconspicuous followed by green to yellow fruits that burst open to display orange-red seeds persisting into fall after leaf drop.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it prefers upland meadows, thickets, young forests, and beaches.

What’s the harm?

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Bittersweet vines strangling trees at Charles Mill Lake Park – Mifflin, Ohio.

Oriental bittersweet quickly takes over the landscape. Its deciduous woody vines create thickets, encircling tree trunks like boa constrictors, climbing upwards and choking the life out of them. The weight of the vines can pull down large trees. For that reason, those working to control this horrible invasive are warned never to tug at vines to remove them from trees or branches. It also shades out understory plants.

How could things possibly get worse? Oriental bittersweet also spreads underground; it reproduces by putting out root suckers.

To see the devastation up close, visit Charles Mill Lake Park on the Ashland and Richland county border. Oriental bittersweet is everywhere, even on the islands. In some places, the infestation is so bad that bittersweet vines are actually choking themselves.

What can be done?

In Ohio, public officials in general have yet to demonstrate any sense of urgency when it comes to controlling Oriental bittersweet and other invasive plants. On your own property, you can control it by constant cutting or mowing, pulling small vines or cutting large ones and treating the stumps with strong herbicide such as Triclopyr. (Glyphosate just won’t cut it.)

Treatment can be done any time of year, but stump treating is best done in late summer.

For a good video on Oriental bittersweet control log on to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wmZ1Zuho1c.

This video also serves as a great resource for identifying Oriental bittersweet.

Here’s a less-widely accepted method to control Oriental bittersweet. Save lengths of vines as you cut them. Keep them handy in case you find someone selling Oriental bittersweet — and strangle them.













I Canoe Because ‘Amish’ the Good Ol’ Days


Ken Arthur updates his journal by candlelight – while our Mennonite neighbors luxuriate in their modern RV.

On this leg of our canoe trip, I mistook a Mennonite family for Amish and Ken, in turn, was mistaken for Amish.

Instead of camping at Six Mile Dam on the Walhonding River the first night of our trip, we pressed on to Coshocton. On the gravel bar in front of the Lake Park Campground, several Mennonite children frolicked in the river. A middle-aged woman played with the children while an older woman sat in a folding chair reading a newspaper.

It was quite a bucolic scene — the women and girls in their long dresses and white bonnets and the boys in their plain dark clothing. I thought to photograph them but decided to respect their privacy.

As our canoe ground to a halt on the gravel landing we became aware that some of them were staring at us — much as we “English” sometimes hazard uncomfortably long glances at the Amish or Mennonites. The sight of two old guys in a canoe laden with camping gear might have been something of a novelty to them.

“Are you on a camping trip?” the middle-aged woman asked.

We told her we were.

At first I had thought they were Amish. Then I realized, when I noticed their multicolored clothing, that they were Mennonites. Unlike the Amish, they don’t shun technology. This would become abundantly clear.

As Ken and I pitched our tents, the middle-aged woman walked by.

“Have you heard whether it’s supposed to rain tonight?” Ken asked her.

She pulled out a smartphone, checked her weather app and said, “There’s a slight chance of rain around midnight.”

Then she sauntered on down the lane to her campsite — and climbed into a big fancy RV.

This experience reminded me that primitive camping is just another form of shunning the trappings of modernity.

After supper, Ken recorded the day’s events in his journal by candlelight while I wandered down to the gravel bar try to catch a glimpse of the full moon.

After a leisurely breakfast we broke camp, loaded the canoe, and headed downstream. We stopped to stretch our legs at the public river access south of Coshocton.

Ken wandered along the bank, looking for objects to incorporate into his artwork. Meanwhile, I picked up litter left behind by careless fishermen.

An older model car rolled into the parking lot and stopped near the riverbank. It was occupied by two men, who I guessed to be around 50. They had fishing rods in the back seat.

I approached the car and noticed the man in the passenger seat had an open bottle of Budweiser on the seat between his legs. The driver asked if the river was shallow and I told him it was. They indicated that shallow water wasn’t conducive to good fishing. Although they seemed more interested in drinking.

The driver noticed Ken walking along the bank.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“Oh, he’s with me,” I responded.

“Is he Amish?” he asked.

I laughed and told him he wasn’t.

They left, apparently to do their drinking elsewhere.

As Ken approached, he asked about the men in the car.

“They asked me if you were Amish,” I said.

He was not amused.

Personally, I don’t mind being mistaken for Amish. I have been on at least one occasion. After all, isn’t that what canoe tripping is all about — shunning the trappings of modernity?

In their book “Canoeing and Kayaking Ohio’s Streams,” Rick Combs and Steve Gillen aptly observed, “Paddling … can take you back to a time when travel was more deliberately accomplished.”

(This was written for my outdoors column, which runs in GateHouse Media publications.)


Define ‘Morning’


The Joys of a Leisurely Morning in Camp


Here I am camping with my favorite canoe partner. (Photo courtesy Steve McKee.)

There are two ways to break camp — the leisurely morning and what I call “bugging out.”

As the name implies, bugging out means getting up, packing hastily and hitting the river, lake or trail. (Or, if you’re car camping, the road.) The reasons for bugging out typically involve a long day of travel, a scheduled rendezvous, or sleeping in until it’s nearly time to set up camp again — somewhere miles away.

The worst part of bugging out is there’s no time for breakfast. A friend of mine would prepare for this eventuality by packing caffeine pills in lieu of coffee and a couple of hard-boiled eggs. That’s not camping; it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

All camping trips should be planned and executed to allow for leisurely mornings — the more leisurely, the better. Ideally, it will be a two coffee pot morning.

The question is, when camping with others, how do you orchestrate this?

It helps to camp with people who have a common definition of “morning.” This can be difficult when some of your friends work night shift or spend a lot of time in bars. Old habits are hard to break no matter how much noise you make banging on a cast iron skillet with a spatula.

If the smell of coffee isn’t enough to get them crawling out of their tents, subtle hints might be in order. You could try standing close to the offending party’s tent and saying in a loud clear voice, “Gee, I wonder if this tent really is waterproof!”

The best way to find people who have a common definition of morning is to look in a mirror. It’s also the best way to find someone who appreciates the true definition of leisurely.

To camp alone is to set your own pace. There’s much to be said for that. The down side is, when it comes time to tell jokes around the campfire, you’ve heard them all.

This story ran as a column in the Ashland Times-Gazette and Loudonville Times.

Routine Acts of Kindness


View from my canoe — Bridge of Dreams at Brinkhaven.

June 4, 2019 — Today I learned the fate of two men who mattered in my life, two men who mattered in a lot of people’s lives: Jonas Nisely and Jim Proper.

I stopped by Jonas’ farm in southern Richland County to see how he was doing. His sons were outside working on the main house when I pulled in and I spoke with Eli. He went into a house across the lane to tell his father I was there.

Jonas is 92. He and my late father became friends in the 1970s, when my family stayed at the KOA campground up the road. Jonas taught in an Amish schoolhouse and my father was a bookbinder. Dad bound books for him in exchange for milk and eggs. I arranged for a reunion between them a few years before my father died. I have fond memories of driving dad’s Crown Vic on a dirt road through the woods to find Jonas working in his tree nursery. He and my father never stopped smiling as they talked, catching up on decades gone by.

I joined Jonas on a porch swing overlooking the farm. He appeared frail, but still had a gleam in his soulful blue eyes. I was relieved to see dirt on the knees of his homemade trousers — a sign that he was still getting out and working the land that he loved.

The bucolic scene unfolding before us served as testimony to his dedication to farm and family. Two young women in long blue dresses tended plants around the foundation of the main house, their bare feet rooted in the dirt and grass. A younger woman in a long brown dress mounted a pony and rode it down the lane, the same pony a young boy had been riding when I pulled up.

“Eli’s keeping the place in good shape for me,” Jonas said.

That clearly meant a lot to him.

Then we talked about my family.

“Your father always treated me well,” he said.

That meant a lot to both of us.

Earlier that day, I learned that Jim Proper had passed away in 2011. It had been years since I’d stopped by Jim’s place along the Mohican River at Brinkhaven. I felt guilty for not having kept in touch.

Jim was only 62 when he died. Like Jonas, he was a family man.

I camped in Jim’s yard on Memorial Day weekend 1980. It was the first place I ever camped along the river. Canoeing would become the focus of my life and — thanks to Jim — Brinkhaven would always hold a special place in my heart.

Back in the day Jim charged canoeists two bucks a night to camp in his big back yard near Brinkhaven Dam. Over the years I spent many a night there, lulled to sleep by the sound of water rushing over what was left of the low head dam.

Legend has it Jim’s place originally served as a roadhouse, known for its fine steaks and — according to some accounts — served with a side dish of rowdiness. Over the years, the Propers made additions and other improvements to the house. It looks quite stately, perched on a hill overlooking the river.

Eventually Jim stopped charging me and gave me his blessings to camp in his yard anytime. He seemed to sense my desire for solitude. Jim would wait till morning — when I was making breakfast or breaking camp — to come down from the house and talk with me.

Jim figures prominently in Mohican River lore — Brinkhaven in particular. In fact, some paddlers owe their lives to him. He was instrumental in chipping out a section of the right side of the dam, providing safe passage.

Even though it clearly pained him, Jim talked about pulling bodies of drowned paddlers from the river, victims of the dangerous hydraulic of the low head dam.

There’s another story about Jim I’d like to share. I’ll save that for another time.

I never troubled him for help with a shuttle, but Jim was known to do that for canoeists. I was content to enjoy his hospitality and conversation — and to watch his family grow over the years.

I was told his son, Matthew, has the place now. Next time I’m on that part of the river I should make it a point to stop by.

[This column was published in the Ashland Times-Gazette.]

Motel Camping on the Muskingum River

Not What You’d Call Glamping


Illustration by Joe Hughes

Cue “Jaws” theme music. Assorted old folks are draped over lounge chairs scattered around a motel swimming pool. They read books or talk among themselves. The surface of the water in the pool glistens in the summer sun.

The gate to the pool area swings open. Enter a middle-aged man wearing a Panama hat, sunglasses, cutoff jeans and a bright orange life vest. He is sunburned and sweaty.

The motel patrons continue reading and talking among themselves. They don’t seem to notice this stranger in a hat and life vest. He walks across the hot concrete deck and, without breaking stride, drops into the deep end of the pool. A few of the old folks put down their books or abruptly stop talking.

Cut to a close shot of the man in the pool, suspended from his life vest, bobbing in the water. An oily sheen forms around him on the surface of the water, a mixture of dust, sweat, and sunscreen.

One by one, the elderly folks close their books, gather their beach towels and beat a hasty retreat, trying their best not to stumble over their canes and walkers.

Not a scene you’d expect to see on a canoe trip, but there I was — camped at a motel in Beverly, Ohio. It was one of three I stayed at on my canoe trip from Brinkhaven on the Mohican River to Marietta at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers.

In this case, it was a combination motel and rest home. Half of the compound had been converted to senior citizen housing. Truckers, down-and-outers, and — on this night — a canoe bum occupied rooms in the other half.

On this trip, I took a break from primitive camping on two other occasions. I spent a night at a bed and breakfast in McConnellsville and another at a motel in Marietta.

In McConnellsville I stayed at what is now the Three Sisters Sunset Inn. It might have been called something else back then.

Like the motel/rest home in Beverly, I had to lug my camping gear across Ohio 60. Both places had docks on the river, as do many bars and restaurants along the Muskingum. It wasn’t safe to leave stuff in your boat and locking your canoe to the dock with a cable was advised.

The McConnellsville bed and breakfast was operated by a couple. I had made a reservation well before setting out on the trip. When I checked in, they told me they were headed off to a concert in Columbus. I was the only guest and they more or less asked me to keep an eye on the place in their absence.

I was only too glad to oblige. It had rained heavily the night before. I unpacked my tent and rainfly and draped them over the furniture in my room. It reminded me of when I was a kid and draped blankets over the furniture for make-believe camping.

For the final night of the trip, I had made arrangements to stay at the Lafayette Hotel, which is located at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers. The plan was to have a friend drive to Marietta the next day to pick me up. I had called the hotel manager weeks earlier and explained what I was doing. He seemed intrigued and told me I could stay there.

When I arrived, a clerk told me all the rooms had been booked for the night. I explained the situation and asked to see the manager. I told him I was exhausted after two weeks on the river and offered to sleep in a broom closet or a dark corner of the basement. He apologized and told me I couldn’t because of fire regulations. I don’t suppose it would have made any difference if I told him I didn’t plan to make a campfire.

My 157-mile canoe trip became a 160-mile canoe trip. I had no choice but to paddle three miles back upstream to a motel I had passed along the way. It had a dock on the river. I don’t recall the name of the motel; I think it was a former Motel 6 operating under a different name and renting rooms by the hour. Had I looked at the register, I’m sure all the guests had the same surname — Smith. What are the odds?

I ventured out to a convenience store, bought a couple of tallboys — domestic beer because that’s all they had — and retreated to my room. I ordered a pizza. After it arrived, I bolted the door, stacked all the furniture I could lift against it and settled in for the night.

For once in my life I was not a happy camper.

(One of my outdoors columns published in the Ashland Times-Gazette)