Look Out for the Lookout

Did you know there is a captivating icon to Ohio’s forest conservation past standing in the trees between Ash Cave and Cedar Falls? There is, and thanks to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry, visitors can once again climb it and enjoy one of the areas best vantage points for observing the upcoming change of seasons about to sweep over the beautiful Hocking Hills. What I’m referring to is the Ash Cave Lookout Tower, a recently renewed forest fire lookout tower on Chapel Ridge.

I visited the tower recently while hiking a pleasant portion of the Buckeye Trail between Ash Cave and Cedar Falls. In fact, the trail has been recently rerouted to pass directly below the tower. A less adventurous way to visit the tower is by vehicle. The tower is located near the intersection of State Route 374 and Chapel Ridge Road. An access road forks to the south almost immediately after turning onto Chapel Ridge Road. The access road is usually chained off, so you’ll have a short walk to the tower.

For you history buffs: Between 1924 and 1978, Ohio constructed and operated 45 forest fire lookout towers to watch over forest lands that were newly planted with trees. Each day during the peak fall and spring wildfire seasons, hardy spotters climbed the steps to the cabins of these towers to survey the surrounding landscape for the smoky telltale signs of a wildfire. If a blaze was spotted, spotters would telephone from tower to tower in order to triangulate the fire’s precise location.

Over time, improved telephone communication throughout these rural areas, as well as the use of airplanes in wildfire detection, made lookout towers obsolete. Time, weather and vandals took their toll on the wood and metal structures, in most instances rendering them unsafe for public access. Today, only seven of these historic structures remain standing in Ohio’s 20 state forests. Gracious efforts undertaken by the ODNR Div. of Forestry are restoring these remaining forest icons to their former glory and opening them to the public.

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