Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve
Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve is a blackhand sandstone gorge with a popular asphalt trail suitable for cycling and roller blading. We don't hike there.
We hike trails on the north side of the river. These relatively unknown natural trails are a delight for the feet as well as the eyes. Suitable for even the beginner, the 2 mile loop (est.) Marie Hickey Trail winds around a wooded plateau overlooking the gorge along the Licking River. The Oak Knob Trail adds about 0.5 mile (est.) to the total hike length. The trails provide a variety of textures and are free of gravel. The combination of grass, soft earth, firm earth, hemlock needles, pine needles, broken sandstone, and wooden foot bridges make this trail suitable for beginners while enjoyable by anyone barefoot. When the Yellow Poplar trees (a.k.a. Tuliptree, Tulip-poplar) are in bloom, petals, flowers, and small branches get blown down from them, and the bright yellow, orange, and green flowers are everywhere on the ground and in the canopy overhead.
The Marie Hickey Trail follows the Blackhand Gorge for a stretch, affording a view of the Licking River, the asphalt trail on the other side, and rail tracks. During the late spring and summer one can only barely see the river and old rail bed through the trees.
On the Oak Knob Trail is a tree that engulfed a steel sign. It has become a popular stop for our group, and still amazes everyone. The sign is at the site of a nitro-glycerin plant that blew up in 1930.
The nearby Lock Trail (still on the north side of the river) is a nice short walk that includes a canal lock, a rail tunnel, and easy access to the Licking River. There is a short stretch of small gravel near the trail head, but it should not be a problem for most.
Should you want to learn more about the area, I recommend reading Black Hand Gorge - A Journey Through Time by Aaron J. Keirns (1995, Little River Publishing). This is a fascinating book covering the history of Blackhand Gorge, the town of Toboso, and the canal and rail systems that went through the gorge. The book is full of period photographs showing the construction and operation of these transportation systems.
Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve is located east of Newark, OH. Take State Route 16 east out of Newark. About 12 miles east of Newark, turn south (right) onto SR 146. After 0.2 mile, turn south (right) onto Toboso Road. You will cross Rock Haven Road after 0.2 mile, but do not turn there (Rock Haven Rd. makes a big loop). Instead, follow Toboso Rd. 1.3 miles, then turn west (right) on Rock Haven Rd. (If you cross the bridge over the Licking River, you've gone too far.) Take Rock Haven Rd. 1 mile to the nature preserve entrance on the left. There is a small parking lot. There is no water or restroom at this parking lot.
The Lock Trail is accessed by continuing further down Toboso Road to a gravel parking lot on the left just before the Licking River bridge. The trail head is across the road to the right and is not marked.
Map courtesy Robert Neinast. Not to scale.
The Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves has a location page about Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve.
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