Photos by Mike Evans of OHventures
All throughout the year, and even on the coldest and most wintry of days, The Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve is buzzing with visitors. Perhaps it is the geographical wonders that draws them in, or maybe it's the historical aspects of the park that brings them by. Whichever it is, the 956-acre area is sure to satisfy.
Located in Licking County, just east of the City of Newark and in the small town of Toboso, the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve was established in 1976 in order to protect the area for generations to come. Ten miles of hiking paths run alongside the magnificent sandstone formations, which are a tremendous sight to see. On the other side of the path is the Licking River, which runs east to west and is responsible for forming the gorge many years ago.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the preserve got its moniker from a dark, hand-shaped Indian petroglyph which was engraved on the face of a massive sandstone cliff along the north side of the river. However, the petroglyph was destroyed during the construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal, which runs through the gorge. Sections of the canal towpaths and canal locks may be seen from the trails along the river.
During my winter hike through the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Reserve, I walked along the Blackhand Trail where I was able to see the sandstone formations up close and personal. The 4.26 mile path is paved, and therefore permissible to bring leashed dogs, and is also handicap accessible.
Because I had my dog with me, I was unable to go on the Quarry Rim Trail, which as one could guess by its name, runs along the rim of the quarry off of the Blackhand Trail. Dogs are not permitted on the Quarry Rim Trail because of how steep, narrow and rugged the path is. It is also not recommended to travel on during the winter conditions. I can not wait to return sans canine so I can try it out in the spring!
The very short Canal Lock Trail, which is a mere 0.1 miles long (in a loop) is a must-see when visiting, as you can catch a great glimpse of the aforementioned canal locks. The Oak Knob, Marie Hickey, and Chestnut Trails round out the collection of hiking paths, and are all loops (and of course very scenic).
While walking, I ran across a few volunteers who are members of the Friends of Blackhand Gorge group. They were clearing trees and shrubs in order to create a brand new trail that was not yet named and was set to be open before spring! It is clear that the many volunteers who comprise the Friends of Blackhand Gorge take great pride in the preserve. And it was clear that all of the many visitors taking photos as they hiked through the gorge had just as much appreciation for all that Blackhand Gorge State Nature Reserve has to offer.