Posted by Ron Bell
I thought I’d share one of my favorite places to visit in the region. It’s a bit more of an adventure than hiking the well worn paths of the state park, but well worth it.
Tucked deep in Vinton County’s Zaleski State Forest hides the Moonville Tunnel–about a 45 minute scenic drive from our cabins. The tunnel was named for a nearby mining town that sprang up along the Marietta and Cincinnati (M&C) Railroad, which was routed through southeastern Ohio in the mid-1850s. Little evidence of the town can be found today. Ultimately, CSX Railroad took ownership of the railroad and tunnel. They operated the line until 1988, when it was abandoned and the rails pulled up and trestles dismantled.
If not for a grassroots effort, the tunnel would likely have been destroyed. In fact, an ongoing project is underway to open several miles of the old railroad grade as a rail trail. Currently, about 6 miles of the rail trail are complete, with another 9 or so planned. Work is currently in progress to replace bridges near the tunnel. Even without the bridges, the railroad grade and tunnel are accessible.
A visit to the tunnel is a fascinating experience. The tunnel sits in a quiet, remote location; the contrast to the heavily visited Hocking Hills State Park is quite stark. In fact, you may be in awe simply by the fact that you didn’t know such remote places like this even existed in Ohio. As you walk through the tunnel, you can’t help but reflect on its history or marvel at the brick construction. Stand at one end of the tunnel and whisper to others at the opposite end: they’ll be able to hear you. The tunnel is rumored to be haunted and this is what brings more people to the tunnel than anything else. Visiting the tunnel at night is an unforgettably spooky experience.
Many legends exist of whom or what haunts the tunnel. One of the more common stories tells of an intoxicated miner walking home along the tracks late one night. When a train approached he waved a lantern in a futile attempt to stop it. Some say you can see a light swinging near the tunnel on certain nights. Another story tells of a woman dressed in white. She is thought to be the spirit of a woman killed on a nearby trestle in 1905. Many tunnel visitors report strange white objects or streaks showing up on photos taken of the tunnel. I have personally had this happen to me using a perfectly good digital camera.
Want to visit? Here are directions from State Route 278 at the dam in Lake Hope State Park. Turn left (if headed south) onto Wheelabout Road. In approximately 0.25 mile, Wheelabout Road will curve right, stay straight and travel onto Shea Road. Approximately one mile down the road, Shea Road will turn to gravel and become Hope-Moonville Road. Back at the beginning of Shea Road, your distance to travel is 2.5 miles to a metal bridge crossing Raccoon Creek. Park just before the bridge and take the wide trail on the left (east) side of the road. This short unofficial trail–often muddy–is 0.2 mile in length and will drop you right in front of the tunnel. To view the tunnel from the road, drive across the metal bridge and look left after 0.1 mile. You can also park here and access the old railroad grade. Work is underway to replace a railroad bridge across Raccoon Creek here, which will provide easier access to the tunnel when complete. Optional directions: in Google Maps you can search “moonville ohio” and it will get you pretty close.