A monthly guide to day trips in Ohio

That we now have been mandated to stay at home has been quite the damper on travel.

As of writing this, I should be in Florida enjoying a grouper sandwich for lunch at Frenchy’s, a cheap tiki drink concocted in my flask, reveling in a sandy getaway far removed from the indoor spring I’m currently up against. Really, the crust of Florida -- the only good part of Florida -- is my getaway from actively traveling.

My partner Charlotte and I had been planning international jaunts to Amsterdam, Spain and Iceland -- a giant, cross-continental journey that has now been put on pause. At this point I can’t even remember the last time I was on a plane (though I can’t say much for air travel in the 21st century). And I can’t think of any time in the near future we can cross a border.

Even in Ohio, where I’ve made now-archived trips to historical sites and off-the-beaten-path oddities, I can’t (legally) suggest any movement until the weight of our collective worry is lifted.

Cabin fever is very real. And if our public parks were entirely closed, we’d have absolutely nowhere to go. Charlotte and I have made a ritual of waking up each day before 7 a.m. and walking a couple of miles. We’ve worn High Street thin, walking past closed businesses where dust is gathering by the day.

I work side by side with a literal Iron Man. My colleague, the math teacher, has, no joke, run 26 marathons in 26 days (that’s 676 miles). In some cruel way he’s loving quarantine, if only because he now has the time to run the earth. But even he has become bored.

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We’ve tried the marathons. A 10 mile hike up to Antrim Lake, another down to Goodale Park. You see a lot. We saw a kid on a bike get hit by a car, cardinals mating, an inordinate number of families catching Pokemon and people building fires on the riverfront at noon in the shadow of Target. You don’t need streaming dystopia on Netflix to reflect current realities, though “Idiocracy,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Children of Men” are good references.

Each day in the last four weeks, we’ve tried to carve a new path into the amazing community in which we live. As renters, of course we marvel at those more privileged who own homes near Webster Park, Old Beechwold or any estate right along the oft-hiked Olentangy Trail. We’ve also noticed the little things, such as the slow evolution of the same tiny tree budding near the library, new “yarn bombs” (like the one at Acton Road celebrating Dr. Amy Acton), the brutalist intimacy of the Clintonville Veterinary Clinic and why we’ll never afford a house on Cliffside Drive.

Most of our walks and daydreams, though, have occured within the ravines of Clintonville. And in our recent hyper-local travels, we’ve come to find that the ravines are a top destination. In some regard, it’s become hard to remain socially distant in the ravines. There are some times when crowds, selfie-snapping families and people stopped in the thoroughfare chatting with neighbors fill the space almost to the point that it's become a controversy. But how could any of us become contrarian to walking the city streets? This is the only escape we now have, and one can only stay in and solve so many jigsaw puzzles.

For this edition of Weekend Wanderlust, I thought I’d highlight these irreplaceable ravines. Many thanks to the citizens of the Clintonville Discussion Forum for providing informative research and considerably reactionary remarks. My aim is certainly not to provide any definitive history of these locales, or comment on the flora and fauna (though the local squirrels seems pretty amped for spring), only to show one can truly “getaway” in their own backyard.

From an informational plaque in Glen Echo Ravine:

Between 14,000 and 28,000 years ago, the Wisconsin Glacier carved a network of ravines that criss-cross major waterways in Franklin County. As it retreated, the glacier deposited a composite of giant boulders, finely ground rock, and sand on top of Ohio’s ancient sedimentary rock. This sheet of glacial debris was dropped by the melting glacial ice. Freezing, thawing, and weathering modified the debris after it was deposited. An accumulation of organic matter from plants and animals formed the top layer of the soil that developed with the growth of eastern deciduous forests. There are over forty ravines in Franklin County. Many are still unnamed. 

Walhalla Ravine

Walhalla has quickly become the Champs-Élysées of Clintonville. On each of our treks through the ravine, which runs from Indianola Avenue to High Street, we’ve seen someone we know, be it 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. It’s likely that in a time of social distancing, there will be some calculus of socialising in Walhalla. Visits with friends and acquaintances have been welcome or surprising, but at the appropriate distance. Most of the trips have been silent, aside from bird calls, the sound of the river that cuts through the ravine and our voices commenting on how “this house” or “that house” would be ideal.

In the first week of quarantine, though, the traffic was overwhelming. People were leaving trinkets and tchotkes in tree stumps and on rocks in the stream. For Charlotte and I, who rarely made this trek before the shut-in, we found it charming but problematic. Little did we know the conflict a few toys could erupt.

Anonymous post from the Clintonville Discussion Forum:

Original Post (and person who made it their mission to remove every toy, be it crafted birdhouse or McDonald’s Happy Meal figure)

“To whomever is leaving plastic figures in Walhalla Ravine -- please stop. With storms in the forecast this weekend, some of us were concerned that these plastic objects would be blown or washed further downstream. Teach children to be good stewards of our natural environment. Not trampling the vegetation and emerging wildflowers to pick up objects that have recently been handled by others in this time of concern about spreading germs.”

Random reply by a family that enjoyed the practice:

“We wholeheartedly loved finding all the little toys. We’ve walked the ravine a couple times finding new things each time. While I agree about the litter on the macro scale, I’m super grateful for the fun and novelty tin which several people put effort into. Thank you for the fun toys.”

Needless to say, as non-property owners in the region, we have no stake. Yes, it was whimsical. But environmentally sound? Despite the inherent civic tension, the allure and proximity of Walhalla has been a constant magnet. Traipsing the ravine, it’s hard not to feel like you’re inhabiting a world far removed from the hustle of life a block away on High Street, a place where you’re free to ponder the truth of the Mooney Mansion mystique.

Glen Echo Ravine

Glen Echo Ravine, in contrast, is the working man’s ravine. It has the feel of a public park, with plenty of signage, a vernal pool, a waterfall, picnic tables and the aire that one still might be able to afford an apartment overlooking the grandeur. It’s a place everyone can gather, as we found recently, happening upon an impromptu party that had formed under the newly refurbished Indianola Bridge. But who’s to complain? Glen Echo is a streetcar suburb. This is where real bohemia in Columbus began.

According to a Clintonville Discussion Forum member:

The streetcar came up Summit, turned west on Hudson and then north on Indianola. The large radius curb at Hudson and Indianola is a remnant of the line. There was also a connection from Indianola down to High.

The beauty of Glen Echo is that it is just that: a halt, an end. It’s a beautiful little respite from which you can buy a record from the greatest record store in town, a Blizzard from the local Brazier or even get a tattoo, if that’s what you’re into.

Of course, much of that action is on hold now, with even shopping at Used Kids restricted to the internet. Instead, maybe put on some hiking boots and take the creek all the way to the Olentangy River. You’ll have to pass a Xenos school and the Gates of Hell, but you’ll have the absolute survival respect of your family. I totally remember my father taking me though the creek of his childhood to catch crawdads.

Overbrook Ravine

In my notes, I described Overbrook Ravine, originally called the Adena Brook, the “silent wonder,” likely because no one walks there. Charlotte and I took those extensive morning steps to this ravine to see the quiet spectacle of Overbrook before the world got started.

Existentially, there are ancient Adena arguments that need to be addressed.

From the Olentangy Watershed Wikipedia Page:

In the early 1960s workmen conducting excavations for new streets unearthed an old Adena burial mound containing two skeletons and the remains of tools at what is now the corner of Yaronia and Wynding Drives.

Overbrook is sacred. The earliest inhabitants, who are thought to have been in the ravine as early as 300 B.C., knew this. And who’s to blame when you are in that specific geography? You’re likely pulled into the pastoral thrall.

More than anywhere else, you’ll get lost in Overbrook. I suppose the beauty of Overbrook is that no one knows you live there -- and hopefully through all of this you don’t mind a couple of travelers passing through your neighborhood.