Athens Beautification Day: Maintaining Athens’ beauty since 2004

The Community Service Leadership Council (CSLC) hosted its 13th annual Athens Beautification Day on Sunday, April 9. Over 800 volunteers spent the day cleaning up various sites around Ohio University and the greater Athens area.

The goal of the event is to encourage Ohio University students to become involved with the Athens community, and to give back to where they live.

This year, Athens Beautification Day was preceded by Athens Beautification Week. CSLC partnered with Greek life and Athens-based nonprofit organizations in order to draw attention to Athens Beautification Day, and connect to a larger portion of the community. This included fundraising for the River Road Rabbit Rescue and a dunk tank event with the Chi Omega sorority.

Other environmentally-focused events are taking place in Athens throughout April to celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Day, such as seed giveaways, a sustainability film series at the Athena Cinema and a march for science.

Radar Hill, the hidden land beyond campus

 

Pathway leading up to Radar Hill in Athens, Ohio

Athens, Ohio. A college town surrounded by Appalachian land with its very own miracle mile down East State Street.  At Ohio University, you will find all walks of life, pursuing all types of careers. There are journalists to engineers, marketers to health professions. All wrapped up in the hustle and bustle on a campus serving roughly 23,000 people. But, should one be looking to take a trip just off campus, a beautiful hidden gem, several in fact, are just around the corner.

As you drive into Athens, one thing becomes prevalent, there is a lot of green. From the trees to the landscaping to the school colors, there is a lot of green. Now, if you are like me, you love to go on mini-adventures and explore a little bit. I highly recommend spending a day or two going to a few of the places Athens has hidden away outside of campus. One such place is Radar Hill.

Radar Hill got its namesake by being built during World War II by the U.S Army. Later, it was used by the Air Force as a small defense research facility. Ohio University’s Radar Hill was the place for the world’s only privately operated satellite station, allowing OU and its partners to receive and transmit from the same place.

Enough about the history, what makes Radar Hill such a great spot to visit? Well, to me it’s a few things. First, the view is incredible. Once you make the short trek behind the Ridges, you will find yourself with a breathtaking 360-degree view of Athens. You are able to see for miles and miles, you can see almost the entire OU campus and the vast Appalachian land. Secondly, the hill is a great destresser. If I ever feel down or just stressed to the point of freaking out, I like to do two things, play some basketball and/or go adventuring. When you are up on the hill, everything that is worrying you just seems to melt away. Up there, you are free and life just seems as simple as the light breeze blowing around the land.

Looking down on the path up to the top of Radar Hill

Secondly, the hill is a great destresser. If I ever feel down or just stressed to the point of freaking out, I like to do two things, play some basketball and/or go adventuring. When you are up on the hill, everything that is worrying you just seems to melt away. Up there, you are free and life just seems as simple as the light breeze blowing around the land.

And lastly, Radar Hill is just a place for everyone. Nature lovers, hikers, townies, students, adventurers, almost everyone enjoys this trip up to the highest point in Athens. It truly is one of the gems of this small town.

If you would like more information on the trails or just general information on the hill and surrounding areas, I recommend visiting the  Athens County Visitors Bureau or trekohio, an online site that visits many great spots in Ohio.

Bass catchin’ not bar hopping

As a farm girl from the South trapped at a rowdy party school I have approached my past four years of college much like a roller coaster: close my eyes and hope it’s over soon. Unlike other students, the place I know I’ll look back on with nostalgia when thinking about my college town isn’t a bar or a burrito place, it’s a fishing spot.

It’s true that many students visit Strouds Run State Park at some point during their stay in Athens, Ohio but what many of them don’t know about–or maybe just don’t care about–is a more secluded section of Strouds Run that is the core of Dow Lake. The dam built in 1959 that sits in a little off-set pocket right against East State Street.


http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/Portals/wildlife/Maps/Lake%20Maps/PDFs/dowlake2.pdf

While the north and west sides of the lake are typically occupied on warm spring and summer days, this little haven remains scarcely populated. Parking, boat rentals and beaches are located on the north and west sides of the lake so to the typical collegiate friend group deciding to embark on an outdoor pursuit this is where they end up. Yes, these city slickers and Midwest rurals are bonding over the great outdoors and it’s wonderful! However, I go to the water for exclusion.

A few times I have been sitting cross-legged on the bank securing my reel to my arrows, a meditative act I enjoy doing to prepare to bow fish, when a stranger suddenly joined me. My dog lets me know if someone is approaching before they could possibly see me. He isn’t a hunting dog by any means, just an overly loving goober who is particularly adept at tracking down hands to pet him.

These visitors are usually middle aged men who grew up here. “Townies” as us students like to call them. They always apologize for interrupting me because they came here to be alone too (after getting over their complete and utter surprise because a student knows this spot), then the bow sparks some interesting conversations.

One morning I was there and had no intentions of fishing. I brought the dogs to swim and to get some fresh air while I tinkered around with my bow. A younger gentleman came walking up (with my dog prancing beside him. Traitor.) and started setting up his spot to fish. He actually was a hobbiest archer himself and we sat and worked on my bow together. He had a set of archery wrenches (tools used to adjust a bow) and when he left he told me to keep them. It was simple and meaningless, yet I wouldn’t trade that wrench set for a million Court Street Snapstories.

I took this Snap when a kind townie gave me a spare set of tools for my bow!

For the most part it’s just my dog, the fish and myself over at the dam. Isolated. Not “experiencing” Athens. Occasionally, I get to listen to fishing stories or see pictures of last bow season’s buck though. It’s times like those that make me feel like I’m not the one missing out but instead the one actually experiencing Athens.

The Ridges provide a serene escape

Living on campus close to academic buildings is convenient for students, but also presents the danger of falling into a habitual existence. Walking down the same bricks, waving to the same people, eating at the same places. I never wanted to fall into a routine like that- to the point where I lacked the desire to explore. On my long morning runs, I forced myself to venture off campus in hopes of finding new and exciting ground. At first, all I found was endless miles of bike path and, of course, Walmart.

A few weeks later, I stumbled upon The Ridges. I was aware that it was an extension of campus which had previously been an insane asylum. I expected to find typical research facilities with professors walking around, and not much scenery.

Instead, what I found looked deserted and eerie. Beautiful red brick buildings graced with ivy stood amid the silence. Parts of the brick had eroded, creating a look of authenticity and age.  The structures were unique as was the trail, which took me up a massive hill and spilled into a thick wood. Along the side there were gravestones that had clearly withstood the test of time.  I followed along, mesmerized by the stillness and smell of fresh pine.

Sunset at The Ridges, photo by Julie Ciotola

My first experience with The Ridges soon led to dozens more, and each time I went back I discovered something new. I found an endless hill that led to a stellar view of the sunset. I found a long staircase that dropped off on a brick road. I found graffiti covering an old silo. Best of all, I found myself lost amid the trees surrounded by the unknown.

For non-runners, The Ridges provide a more calming escape. The different trails are ideal for a long hike. The air is fresh and the noises are natural, a dramatic change from downtown Athens. Even on a sunny afternoon, The Ridges are rarely crowded with people. Sometimes the only mark of civilization is muddy tracks or paw prints etched on the path.

At night the atmosphere is cool and spooky. The graveyards are much less inviting, yet they provoke thoughts of the asylum’s patients who lived and died there. With the only light being the moon’s natural glow, a walk through The Ridges is a much different experience. Taking the time to stop and appreciate the dark sky is perhaps the best part, because scores of stars are visible from the top of the cemetery hill.

Evening hiking, photo by Julie Ciotola

Whether it’s a morning run, afternoon hike or evening trip, The Ridges offer a solemn escape from chaotic life. It’s a staple of the Athens community for its rich history and opportunity for endless exploration. The only requirement is an open mind willing to wander.

For more information about The Ridges, check out http://www.forgottenoh.com/Ridges/ridges.html

Magic in the hills

Athens, Ohio is what I personally consider to be hippy heaven on Earth. This lovely little college town is filled with spunky free spirits, some of the best food on the planet, and a brilliant institution. But what really makes Athens so special is all of its hidden gems. I could go on and on about all of the fascinating nooks and crannies around this town, but for now I am going to focus on one of my personal favorites; Witches Peak (also known as Witches Hill and Witches Tit).

Being in the middle of Appalachia, Athens has a variety of rolling hills that are great for hiking. There is the ever so popular, Strouds Run. Then you have Radar Hill, with the spooky Ridges planted on top. And we can’t forget the most famous, Bong Hill. However, just across the street from Bong Hill is its lesser known sister hill, Witches Peak.

All of the hills in the Athens area are wonderful hiking spots, but Witches Peak is more than just a hiking trail to me. Bong Hill may have a nice view and Strouds has a lake, but Witches Peak has the beauty. The hill is enclosed in a grove of trees that makes you feel like you are in a completely different world. It’s enchanting.

View from the far side of Witches Peak

I love Witches Peak because I feel at peace when I am up there. For one, it is always less crowded than Bong Hill. You may see fellow hikers up on Witches Peak, but it is never as packed as Bong Hill. It is also quiet at the top of Witches. You can hear the breeze whistle through the trees up there; I love being able to hear that sound.

Green encompasses the top of the hill, even during the coldest months of the year. There is also a copious amount of boulders and rock formations scattered throughout the hill, that are great for climbing. To top it off, there is even a little cave like structure to burrow under. Witches Peak is like my playground. I can climb trees, run around in the leaves, and scale giant rocks all while taking in Mother Nature’s beauty surrounding me.

Witches Peak in the summer

Now, I’m sure you are wondering where the name “Witches Peak” came from. Rumor has it that there was a Satanic worshiping witch cult that did rituals on top of the hill in the 70’s. However, there is no confirmation of this rumor being true. Chances are it was just made up to scare freshman but hey, anything is possible right?

Call me crazy, but I am someone who likes to believe in magic. Witches Peak is one of my favorite hidden gems in Athens because it’s a place where I feel like magic could exist. Not the kind of dark, Satan worshiping magic that may have gotten the hill its name; but a playful, warmhearted magic. I often say that if I was a mythical creature, I would be a woodland faerie. I think if I was, that Witches Peak would be my faerie wonderland.

Witches Peak in the fall

*Note: Pictures do not do Witches Peak justice.

The view of campus from Witches Hill from athensohio

A quiet place amid the bustle of Athens

While I spend an inordinate amount of time (and money) at Donkey Coffee, and often spend time with my friends in various places around campus, my absolute favorite place in Athens is Strouds Run State Park.

Strouds can be found at 11661 State Park Rd., after traversing up the steep hills of eastern Athens and the winding, tree-line roads of the state park.

Strouds is a great place for hiking, swimming, canoeing or any other outdoor activities. On nice days, the park and beach area are often packed with visitors, from old couples relaxing on a picnic bench, to college students throwing a Frisbee on the beach, to young families hiking together.

Some of my favorite memories from my first semester of college were made at Strouds. During one of my first weekends in Athens, a group of my friends and I spontaneously decided to go to Strouds. We all packed into a Green Cab, gawking at the narrow, curving streets of Athens that were previously unknown to us.

When we arrived at our destination, we spent the whole day lying on the beach and swimming. I remember being in awe of the natural beauty of the park, and I felt grateful to attend school in such a picturesque, serene area.

Dow Lake in Sept. 2016

About a month later, I found myself at Strouds again after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. After services, it is customary to perform tashlich, which involves casting bread into a body of water to rid oneself of the regrets of the past year. The congregation at Hillel decided to do tashlich at Strouds, so my friend and I rode in the car of an older couple from the community.

After Rabbi Danielle handed out stale challah and leftover cookies from Shabbat services to congregants, we dispersed around the beach to do tashlich and quietly self-reflect.

Of the forty-some people who were there, I spent the longest time sitting by Dow Lake, in awe of the scenery around me. I thought a lot about the past year as I crouched in the soft grass—the places I’d traveled, graduating high school, beginning college—and what I looked forward to in the upcoming year.

After I did not have any more bread to toss into the lake, I joined the rest of the congregants on the beach. They were all gathered around Luna, the one year old daughter of Lauren, a Hillel employee, for Luna’s baby naming. It is traditional for Jewish kids to be given their Hebrew names sometime during their early years of life, and Luna’s parents chose to have the ceremony on the banks of Dow Lake that day. Lauren emotionally spoke to members of the Athens Jewish community of the origins of her daughter’s Hebrew name. It was an incredibly special moment to be a part of.

Taken while hiking on one of Strouds Run’s many trails

I have always loved hiking and connecting with nature, and Strouds is the perfect place to do that. On nice days, I crave the feeling of solitude and peace I know that I can find at Strouds. Even though it is over six miles away from campus, I am happy to make the trip and reconnect with the world around me. Amidst the stress of school and work, I know that I can go to Strouds and find solace.

Heaven Up On The Hill

There are few places to truly escape the hustle and bustle of college life in Athens, Ohio. Our beloved Court Street is always full of students scurrying off to class or stumbling around to their bar of choice. If you’re like me, there are times you need to get away from it all. Bong Hill, located a short distance from The Ohio University campus is the place to go.

The view from Bong Hill at sunset
The view from Bong Hill at sunset

I won’t say it’s an easy trek up but it’s well worth the time and sweat. Walking up the tree lined pathway, it feels as if you are no longer in Athens. Surrounded by only the sounds of nature, there is no better way to clear your mind.  For the moment you forget the stress of being a hard working college student.

Upon arrival at the top of Bong Hill, your breath is taken away. The view of Athens and Ohio University is truly stunning. It feels as if you are on top of the world and looking down on the beautiful place you call home.

If you have never made the journey to the top, it is something that has to happen at least once during your stay here in Athens. A group of students made a video documenting the journey up to Bong Hill. While this video gives a glimpse into the experience, it is one you need to experience first hand.

 

Stress Elimination: My Stupid Easy Method

When I was a sophomore, I lived on South Green. I shared a hallway and bathroom with four other men. Our rooms were incredibly close and the walls were paper-thin. Thus, the nights sounded like loud sex and the days, like guitar practice. Dim and grimy light barely bled through the windows. The central heating was fickle at best. Respite from the world I knew was rare, so yes, I was snug in my bed with my decently priced, mid-to-high-range headphones on most of the time. But when life in my cold and cluttered pod strained me to the edges of my patience and sanity, I could always rely on a special technique to alleviate stress.

Any time I needed a breather, I’d trek outside my brick stone tenement onto the banks of the Hocking River, which my room conveniently overlooked (actually, my domicile had a view of the roaring highway that runs parallel to the river, a parking lot pocked with bedraggled concrete chunks and a tall, black tree often plump with talkative crows). Trudging up the embankment, past the bike path and down the slopes that lead to the water’s edge, I’d often meander. Mumble to myself. Look nuts. Try and get the blood flowing and set the creative juices in motion, not for any project in particular besides that of keeping sane, which I suppose is a project in its own right, in that it takes unexpected amounts of effort.

Those banks were good to me. I found profound respite from the stresses of collegiate life in the white din of the highway and the gentle, slick whisper of the mucky water, which sounded mellifluous compared to whatever the hell my long-haired bohemian neighbor called the sharp screams his violin vomited (he bought it halfway through the year; I should have been thankful for the guitar). The banks were pasture and seclusion.

 

Meditative places are important and unfortunately, the majority go unnoticed. A labyrinth and prayer beads, or a yoga mat and sage, are not necessary components for mental, or spiritual — still have no idea what that means — relief. Rather, allowing yourself time to breathe and letting your body wander is the secret to alleviating constricting feelings.  Babble. Mumble. Jitter. Slog. Take your brain for a walk, and your body to the banks.