Picture Ohio! – Lake Hope State Park

Water Lilies, Lake Hope State Park, Vinton County, Ohio
Water Lilies, Lake Hope State Park, Vinton County, Ohio

Two hundred years ago the area around what is now Lake Hope State Park in Vinton County looked like a line from William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem: “…among those dark Satanic mills”.   Coal mines peppered the area, and most of the trees in these forested hills had been cut to make charcoal to feed the fires of more than two dozen sandstone iron furnaces in what is known as the Hanging Rock region of southeast Ohio. By the early 1900s the furnaces had closed down, and during the last century an extensive oak-hickory forest has grown up around the remnants of the mining and iron smelting days of the early 1800s.

Like all lakes in southeast Ohio, the 121-acre Lake Hope is man-made, constructed by damming Big Sandy Creek in the 1930s. There is an extensive system of hiking trails in Lake Hope State Park and the surrounding Zaleski State Forest, which is the second largest state forest in Ohio.  There are abundant displays of spring wildflowers here in April and May, especially along the floodplain of Raccoon Creek, but the main reason I visited Lake Hope recently was to enjoy and photograph the spectacular display of pink water lilies that cover large expanses of the lake in June and July.

Water Lilies, Lake Hope State Park, Vinton County, Ohio
Water Lilies, Lake Hope State Park, Vinton County, Ohio

The pink water lilies are a color variant of the fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata) that is native to the United States. Water lilies spread rapidly, and acres of the lake are covered with a mat of these beautiful flowers in early and mid-summer. There is a fine display of the water lilies in an inlet of Lake Hope alongside State Route 278 east of the park entrance, and a much more extensive population in the northern section of the lake along the Peninsula Trail. Bear in mind that the water lily flowers close up at night, so try to time your visit from mid-morning to late afternoon.

Water Lilies, Lake Hope State Park
Water Lilies, Lake Hope State Park

Fragrant water lilies spread using underwater rhizomes, as well as by seeds generated from pollination by insects, mainly beetles, that are attracted to a sweet smelling fluid created by the lily. After pollination, which takes place over several days, the flower is withdrawn underwater by coiling its stalk. The seeds mature underwater and after several weeks are released, to be spread by water currents or by ducks, which eat the seeds.

The water lilies cover much of the surface of the northern areas of Lake Hope during early summer, and splendid vistas of the lilies can be viewed from the 3-mile Peninsula Trail, which begins at the Hope Furnace parking area along Rte. 278 and traces a loop around the edge of the peninsula that extends north and west from Rte. 278. I hiked part of this trail during my visit, accompanied by my friend Paula Harper. We were photographing vistas of the water lilies, which covered most of the surface of the lake at this spot, when a thunderstorm approached rapidly from the west, darkening the sky and creating dramatic reflections in the surface of the lake. It became clear that we couldn’t outrun the storm, so we grabbed our camera gear and hurried back along the trail to a group of hemlock trees that offered some protection from the storm. The tree foliage helped, but within a few minutes we were both soaked to the skin from the deluge. The storm lasted for about twenty minutes, after which we walked back along the trail, wet through but none the worse for our soggy hiking experience.

Approaching storm over Lake Hope on the Peninsula Trail
Approaching storm over Lake Hope on the Peninsula Trail

While you are in the Lake Hope State Park area, be sure to visit the Hope furnace, which is on the hillside near the parking area for the Peninsula Trail and Zaleski State Forest trails. The Hope Furnace operated from about 1854 to 1875, and is the best preserved of the six furnaces known to have existed in Vinton County. Signs below the furnace provide more information on the Hanging Rock Iron Region, which extended from Hocking County south into northern Kentucky. The furnace faces roughly southwest, and is best photographed under afternoon lighting.

Hope Furnace, Lake Hope State Park
Hope Furnace, Lake Hope State Park

If you have another hour to spare, a visit to the Moonville tunnel, located about 4 miles from the Hope furnace, in Zaleski State Forest, is an enjoyable trip. The tunnel is all that remains of the small mining town of Moonville, which was established in the 1850s. The railroad operated until the late 1980s, when it was abandoned and the tracks removed. Numerous ghosts are reputed to haunt the tunnel, which can be a scary place to visit on your own on a dark day. I visited the tunnel with a hiking companion, Paula Harper, who brightened up the tunnel’s gloomy interior.

To visit the Moonville tunnel from the Hope furnace, retrace your steps along SR 278 to the Lake Hope dam, then turn left (east) on Wheelabout Road (County Rd 3). After 0.2 miles Wheelabout Road bears to the right and Shea Road continues east. Follow Shea Road, which becomes Hope-Moonville Road,  about 2.3 miles to an iron bridge over Raccoon Creek in Zaleski State Forest. Park here, then follow a hiking trail south along the east side of Raccoon Creek to another short trail that goes up a hill to the old railroad bed. Turn left to reach the Moonville tunnel. The GPS coordinates for the Moonville tunnel are: 39.30725N 82.322275W

Paula Harper in the Moonville Tunnel, Zaleski State Forest
Paula Harper in the Moonville Tunnel, Zaleski State Forest

Finally, as a reward for hiking the trails in the Lake Hope area, treat yourself to a delicious lunch or dinner at the Lake Hope Lodge in Lake Hope State Park. The specialty of the Lodge is real pit barbecue, smoked in a traditional  wood fire pit using pure hickory. The beef brisket, pulled pork, and ribs are delicious. The Lodge is open for lunch 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and dinner from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm (9:00 pm at weekends). The website is: www.lakehopelodge.com                     

 

     

 

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