Be amazed by nature close to home

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Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park offers a scenic getaway close to home. (Submitted photo)

We have been strict Stay Safe Ohio rule followers.

Within the protection of the order, we found unexpected gems: nightly dinners together, long walks in the woods, wildflower treasure hunts, birdwatching and game nights. These activities have kept us content and somewhat sane during this uncertain time. However, by the eighth week of schools being closed, we desperately needed a distraction.

Fresh air and new trails were the perfect combination to break up our daily routine. An essential trip brought us within close proximity to Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park.

As an adventurous family, we’ve seen the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park and hiked the Narrows at Zion National Park in Utah, but we’ve never explored this local attraction.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead is crucial when hiking with kids. I used the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, parks.ohiodnr.gov/nelsonkennedyledges, to learn about the trails, history and natural features we would encounter at the park.

When hiking with our kids, I like to know the trail length and difficulty level. Snacks, water, and proper foot gear are integral parts of a successful hiking trip. Also, it was important to know that all the restrooms were closed due to COVID-19.

The four hiking trails ranged from 1⁄2 mile to 1 mile in distance. The distances were perfect for us as we only wanted to be there an hour. Learning from experience, I took a screenshot of the map in case we lost cell signal.

Challenge

Always up for a challenge, the boys wanted to do the hardest trail first, the red trail. As the token figure of caution, I begrudgingly agreed as long as we would turn around if it became too difficult or dangerous.

The red trail had us feeling like hobbits in a Tolkien novel as we cut through the valley floor of the sandstone cliffs. New growth of moss and ferns, neon green in color, contrasted with the gray conglomerate rocks. Gnarly roots were exposed as trees somehow thrived in the exposed crevices.

Fat Man’s Peril

The trail took unexpected turns leading into smaller passageways and through an area called Fat Man’s Peril. As the name implies, the space is extremely narrow. As I watched my youngest turn sideways and shimmy out of my vision, I started to feel very claustrophobic. I struggled to take deep breaths as I watched each member of my family disappear into the space known as “the Squeeze.” It was the turn-around point promised to me at the beginning of the hike.

I looked back along the path we had already traveled, considering my options. Just then, I heard laughter on the other side. Everyone made it … but me. My husband returned to meet me halfway in the rock tunnel. I couldn’t help but find humor in my hesitation and chose to go on.

Our reward for persevering was a craggy cavern leading to the Devil’s Icebox. Echoing chirps of birds reverberated down to the cool waters in the creek. We continued on the trail until we came to a picturesque site, Minnehaha Falls. The fern-covered grotto walls leading to the basin were almost as breathtaking as the crest.

Cascade Falls

The calming sound of the waterfall faded as we took our next trail, the white trail. It led us under a tree canopy to the yellow trail. Our next destination was the pinnacle Cascade Falls, the largest waterfall in the park.

The trail to get the waterfall was easy to navigate. My kids loved crouching under rocks to walk across a footbridge perfectly named Dwarf Man’s Pass. The boulders were massive and scattered, appearing to be tossed aside by trolls instead of being created by erosion. We stopped to view the waterfall from multiple angles, failing to reduce the immense beauty enough to capture it in our camera lens.

As we walked back to the entrance of the park along the top rim, My husband and I agreed it would be much more dangerous to take younger kids along the upper trails. Sudden drop-offs are close to the trail, and an enticing creek suddenly leads to the waterfall.

Our experience at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park was a refreshing reminder that we don’t need to travel thousands of miles across the county to be amazed by creation. We savored our short trip close to home imagining being in the company of hobbits, dwarves and trolls.

As proclaimed by J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

They are probably just trying to survive 2020.

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