Love of hiking and fishing began at Salt Fork

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Salt Fork State Park
Salt Fork State Park is Ohio's largest state park. Some found their love of fishing on the Salt Fork Reservoir. (Julie Geiss photo)

An aged photograph triggered a memory of the first time I caught a fish. I was sporting pigtails and had an impish grin on my face. My dad was next to me smiling broadly. The backdrop was Salt Fork Reservoir in early spring.

I was not alone in my accomplishment; my brother caught a fish too. The fish were really biting that day. We must have found a hotspot. All four kids that were fishing caught a fish in rapid succession. The excitement was tangible.

Spring tradition

It was Easter weekend, and we were staying in a lakeside cabin at Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County, Ohio. It was the start of a tradition that lasted over a decade.

On the first day of spring break, my parents loaded the conversion van with food, clothes and games. The canoe was strapped to the roof and we headed south towards the Ohio River before turning west on Route 70.

Salt Fork State Park is Ohio’s largest state park. The park’s 17,229 acres consist of rolling hills, meadows and forests. After the state acquired the land in 1960, plans were made to create a reservoir to be used as an extra water source for the nearby city of Cambridge. Those plans were changed when officials realized the potential for recreational use in the area.

Salt Fork Lodge, rustic and inviting, opened in 1972. I remember walking into the impressive pine and stone structure with my head tilted up in awe at the large beams and fireplace. We spent many evenings enjoying the pool and trying to play shuffleboard without hurting each other. However, the most memorable times were spent hiking on the trails.

Our two favorite trails led to Morgan’s Knob and the Old Stone House. In my memory, these trails took half a day and were quite strenuous. That erroneous assessment was made through the eyes of a child.

Stone House trail

The Stone House trail is a 1.7 mile loop trail that travels by the former home of Benjamin and Margaret Kennedy. Benjamin commissioned the building of the stone house after purchasing 80 acres of land in 1837. Stones from a local quarry were cut into 3 by 1 by 1 feet blocks for construction of the stoic house which became home to multiple generations of Kennedys.

During my childhood the stone house, while still impressive, was abandoned. We would peek into the chilly fruit cellar and imagine it stockpiled with food for a growing family. The windows, bare without panes of glass, gave us a glimpse into another time even if we had to use our imaginations.

Thankfully, the Kennedy Stone House was fully restored between the years of 2000-2002. It is maintained as a museum by the Friends of the Kennedy Stone House Salt Fork State Park.

Morgan’s Knob trail

Morgan’s Knob trail, while similar to hiking Mount Everest in my memory, is only 1.4 miles long. The trail weaves through pine trees and passes over a small creek. The trail also provides an elevated view of the lake.

I fondly remember swinging from grapevines and watching for wildlife. Over the years, we spotted white-tail deer, wild turkeys and a variety of birds. If it was a late spring break, we were able to see wildflowers speckling the landscape.

On the water and along the shore, we caught many more fish over the years. Large-mouth bass, walleye, carp and crappie were the most frequently caught. We also caught our fair share of “stick bass” and also decorated the trees with our lures and bobbers.

Most of the cabins had a screened-in front porch. After hiking and fishing during the day, we loved to sit on the porch and play board games while spring peepers serenaded us from the lake.

One night, our parents overheard us discussing the time we all four caught a fish. It was more of an argument about who had caught the biggest fish. They broke our hearts and then eventually made us laugh when they confessed it was the same fish.

After one child caught the unlucky fish, they distracted us and put the same fish on another line. What I thought was the first fish I ever caught was a ruse; my start as an angler was riddled with deception.

Undeterred by being misled from the start, I was hooked on fishing and hiking for life from my first experiences at Salt Fork.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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