Bob Downing

BREMEN: Boch Hollow is one of Ohio’s once-secret state nature preserves.

The 607-acre tract in northern Hocking County is open to the public for hiking, but off-trail exploration still requires a state permit.

Boch Hollow’s six trails stretch from three trailheads at the edges of the preserve that is eight miles north of Logan. It is about three hours from Akron and makes a great outdoorsy day trip.

The heavily wooded preserve with its small ridges and valleys has 7.5 miles of trails, about half of them new, including four newly rerouted miles of the Buckeye Trail. You can easily create a 10-mile out-and-back hike.

The Buckeye Trail was moved from nearby roads into the preserve in the last two years, said ODNR supervisor Jeff Johnson. The entire trail stretches 1,444 miles on and off road in a circular route around Ohio.

The section of the trail in Boch Hollow runs from the West Trailhead off State Route 664, southeast to the East Trailhead off Bremen Road.

The new trail “undulates across three ridges,” the Buckeye Trail Association reports. It increases the off-road hiking in the New Straitsville area by 4.2 miles and reduces on-road hiking by 2 miles. The New Straitsville section covers 60.2 miles, 59 percent off-road.

Boch Hollow’s expanded trail system opened last November, Johnson said. Sections of old trail were also eliminated.

In addition to the Buckeye Trail, the preserve has the four short Cemetery, Meadow, Pond and Ridge trails. There is also a short connector to the North Trailhead off Beach Camp Road.

That is where I started my hike last fall. I went from the North Trailhead to the Pond Trail and hiked a section of the Buckeye Trail toward the West Trailhead. A wooden gazebo has been built next to the eponymous up-high pond.

The Cemetery Trail goes to a pioneer burial ground that dates back to the 19th century.

The ridges are low, perhaps 100 feet, and there are pretty rocky ravines along small streams. The trails are well marked with signs that make the system easy to navigate. It is a rolling terrain and the hiking is moderate with a few decent hills, Johnson says.

Diverse landscape

Boch Hollow provides an array of habitats ranging from riparian corridors along small streams that drain to nearby Rush Creek, mature wooded hills, ridges and old fields.

There are oak-hickory and beech-maple forests, and rocky outcroppings of Black Hand Sandstone. There are prairie openings atop several of the ridges, but more than 90 percent of the preserve is forested.

A very photogenic waterfall requires a (free) off-trail permit to get there. The preserve will provide directions to Robinson Falls, which is about 15 feet tall and sits in a small rocky gorge.

The most notable botanical feature at Boch Hollow is the extensive population of federally endangered running buffalo clover, one of the largest in Ohio, Johnson says. It was found on the valley floor along a small stream not far from the preserve’s office.

The plant cannot tolerate full sun or dense shade and may be found in partially shaded woodlots, often along small streams and trails. ODNR has adopted targeted eco-management to help the clover thrive.

Boch Hollow also serves a unique role among Ohio’s 136 state nature preserves, as a site for hands-on environmental education about Appalachian Ohio ecology for local students and adults, thanks to the generosity of a Columbus area couple.

The late Dr. Francis and Joyce Kessler, who owned Boch Hollow, donated the land to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. They also provided an endowment fund to maintain buildings, buy land and support the nature education program.

To date, about 500 youngsters and adults have participated in about 40 programs at Boch Hollow, Johnson said.

Kessler was a retired professor of anatomy and physiology at Ohio State where he taught 25 years. He was reportedly one of the first Ohio State professors to present televised lectures. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in World War II and met his wife-to-be on the streets of London.

Home away from home

The couple started acquiring land at Boch Hollow in the 1960s and for many years maintained a weekend home there, where Francis enjoyed restoring vintage British cars in the 10-car garage he built.

The state acquired the initial 570 acres in 2008 and began clearing trails and restoring buildings.

For more information, call 614-265-6531 or 740-380-8918 or go to http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/bochhollow.

The Kesslers also donated a 20-acre wetland to the ODNR in 2002, now Kessler Swamp State Nature Preserve near Sugar Grove. There is a small wooden observation deck at the south end, but little else at the preserve that protects a naturally developing tributary swamp. It is off Hide-Away-Hills Road and you will pass it on your way to Boch Hollow.

Outside Lancaster is the Shallenberger State Nature Preserve with Allen Knob and Ruble Knob. The 87.5-acre tract is at state Routes 33 and 22 off Beck’s Knob Road in Hocking Township.

The flat-topped, dome-shaped rock formations rise about 250 feet above surrounding farmland and the vegetation at the top is different than the plants at the bottom. The knobs are topped with erosion-resistant sandstone and feature steep sides and outcroppings, including rock faces 80 feet high.

Trails lead to the tops, where the trees are scrubby because the soil is thin and dry. The chestnut oak is the dominant species. Mountain laurel also thrives. The rock has an orange tint from the iron oxide that cemented the sand 325 million years ago at the bottom of a shallow inland sea. Hours are sunrise to sunset daily.