Ash Cave Eastern Reserve

108 acres of some of the prettiest scenery in Hocking County

Once a tract of wildlands is successfully saved, it is always poignant to look back over the magical sequence of events that made the achievement possible. Saving Ash Cave Eastern Reserve was an incredible story, complete with lucky twists in plot, tangled spheres of influence, and fistfuls of magic dust that brought unexpected synchronicity.

Here at the Arc, we usually quickly hear word when important properties come up for sale, but oddly, this was not the case for the Ash Cave Eastern Reserve project. The first person who was alerted to the public listing was Kevin Carrico, a nature enthusiast who owns land of his own in Hocking County, not far from Old Man’s Cave. Kevin has always dreamed of owning a larger tract of land in the region and so he went out to tour the property in July, 2020, with his friends, Brian Blair and his wife, Susan Spinelli. He was excited because this property was immediately adjacent to Ash Cave State Park & its adjoining Hocking State Forest. The location was stellar.

All three of them marveled at the rock formations that lined East Queer Creek on the property’s long road frontage bordering OH-56. But what was even more impressive to them was the mature forest that covered the hillsides, dominated by towering white, black and scarlet oaks. Almost every tree was 20-24 inches in diameter and in flawless condition. As an extra attraction, the three large valleys that dissected the property were filled with ancient, thick-girthed hemlocks. The timber value of the property was absolutely staggering. No one could figure out why the property was being sold before it was logged, when logging almost always precedes a “for sale” sign.

The reason, it was discovered, was a small miracle. The owner of the land was an investor and logger who had purchased the property with the intention of harvesting its valuable timber and then selling the land as  development property. His plan had unfolded slowly because the only way to access the trees was to build a bridge across East Queer Creek, one big enough to hold a semi-truck full of logs. The owner proceeded to obtain engineer drawings for the bridge and eventually submitted the applications for the proper permits. When he finally did receive permission to proceed, he discovered that his childhood farm had come up for sale. Suddenly he needed a significant amount of money and he needed it fast. That is how it came to be that this particular tract was now for sale with the trees still standing on it. What we can’t explain, is why no one had snatched it off the market before we did!

While Kevin was hiking the land he recalled thinking, “I knew I couldn’t afford this property but it was clear it needed to be protected by somebody. Brian Blair, as it happened, was not just a casual friend of Kevin, he also was an Arc Board Member, and Kevin offerred the idea of buying it to Brian. Brian was pretty sure that there was no way the Arc could afford this particular property, but he jotted off an email late Saturday night to Arc Director, Nancy Stranahan, ending it with the words “If I were to rate this property’s conservation value from one to ten, I’d give it a ten.”

Nancy opened the email Sunday morning and called Brian a few hours later from a steep hillside in Pike County, where she and her partner Brent were assessing another potential land acquisition. “What’s wrong with it, Brian? The price is right. It sits next to Ash Cave in Hocking Hills State Park, the rock formations are gorgeous, and the timber is mature.  Soooo there has to be something wrong with it. What is it?” Brian answered, “Nothing. Nancy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.” She and Brent ran back to the car and headed right out to Hocking County. She knew that a competing sales offer could come in day, or any hour. 

The very next day the Arc offered the asking price of $435,000 without contingencies, in other words, without an no exit ramp. We had 30 days to raise the money and close. Arc staff and volunteers jumped into action. The Arc’s most committed photographers went out to the site to take pictures that could bring the land’s magic to life for our readers. Webpages describing the property were designed. Lewis Ulman and his wife, Pat Claeys, volunteered to make a short film describing the campaign. Digital maps were constructed. A volunteer from Michigan offered to write and distribute news releases to Ohio’s major papers. When the email’s “send” button announcing the campaign to the public was finally pushed, the property’s closing deadline was only 18 days away.

The outcome astonished us all. Just 17 days the $435,000 sale price was raised in full. The next day we were sitting at the closing table with cash in hand. This was the first time in the Arc’s history that we have purchased a tract of land – at this scale – without the aid of a grant. It was a landmark victory for the Arc’s 25th Anniversary year.

Thanks to so many Arc supporters for loving Hocking Hills, not to death this time, but “for Life.”

A project video was put together in a record time by volunteers Lewis Ulman & Pat Clayes, and it proved to be an integral part of what became a wildly successful campaign.

Photo of Ash Cave by Lewis Ulman, Trailsidephoto.com

Map showing location of the Ash Cave Eastern Preserve.

A remarkably mature and healthy forest covers the entirety of the property, including hemlock groves in the deep ravines. Courtesy of Tom Croce Photography.

Ash Cave Eastern Reserve by Jerry & Barb Jividen

The rock formations lining East Queer Creek on the property are outstanding. Photo courtesy of Jerry and Barb Jividen

Crystal clear streams flow through moss-covered rock formations. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Cubert.