COLUMBUS – In response to the developing public health situation with COVID-19 and the Ohio Department of Health’s (ODH) guidance, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) closed Hocking Hills State Park and all of its trails on Friday.
“In order to protect the health and safety of our visitors, we are temporarily closing Hocking Hills State Park,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “This was a difficult decision, however, this unique trail system is not designed to allow for adequate social distancing without potential risks.”
The challenging terrain of a narrow trail system, where stepping off the trail is strictly prohibited, makes keeping 6 feet of distance between visitors nearly impossible. In some areas, stepping off the trail may result in injury. Limited park staffing could impact response time as well as place undue pressure on local emergency personnel should falls or accidents occur.
At this time, Hocking Hills State Park is the only full park closure in Ohio’s state park system and will include the closure of several features and sites including: Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls, Old Man’s Cave, Rock House and Whispering Cave. This closure will also include Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve.
The state remains under a stay-at-home order. If people choose to venture outdoors, they are advised to use common sense and follow this guidance from the National Recreation and Park Association for staying safe:
– Follow CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to heading to trails — wash hands, carry hand sanitizer, do not use trails if you have symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, etc.
– Observe at all times CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of six feet from other people. Practice it and know what it looks like. Keep it as you walk, bike or hike.
– Warn other trail users of your presence and as you pass to allow proper distance and step off trails to allow others to pass, keeping minimum recommended distances at all times. Signal your presence with your voice, bell or horn.
– Note that trail users may find public restrooms closed — be prepared before you leave and time outings so that you are not dependent on public restrooms.
– Bring water or drinks — public drinking fountains may be disabled and should not be used, even if operable. It is important that hikers on state forest backpack trails take their own water or filtration system because backpack trail water tanks will not be refilled at this time.
– Bring a suitable trash bag. Leave no trash, take everything out to protect workers.
For more information on COVID-19 and ODH’s recommendations on prevention and preparation, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.