Kokosing, Mohican rivers have much to navigate
MOUNT VERNON — Water trails beckon recreational watercraft users with river access points providing a boon to the local economy.
Visitors who spend on canoe and kayak rentals, campground spaces, hotel stays, local eateries and outdoor stores contribute significant sums to retail outlets, campgrounds and canoe liveries in Knox County and adjoining counties. And Knox County is fortunate to have two water trails — the Kokosing River Water Trail, the state’s first in 2005, and the Mohican River Water Trail.
The Kokosing and Mohican rivers are also State Scenic Rivers, the Kokosing dedicated as such in 1997 and then two segments of the Mohican in 2006. About 28 miles of each river have become part of the Ohio Water Trails Program offered through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) — two among 11 state water trails.
An Ohio Water Trails Team, organized under ODNR’s Division of Parks and Watercraft, is assigned the task of working with towns, cities, park districts, and recreational stakeholders, including the American Canoeing Association, to promote public boating access on water trails. The state is continually working with these local partners to evaluate and improve access for existing water trails, and to designate other existing waterways as water trails of the future.
“We have two scenic rivers flowing through Knox County and I think that’s pretty awesome,” said Lori Totman, director of the Knox County Park District.
A few important factors in the Kokosing River’s favor led to it becoming the state’s first water trail, said Tom Arbour, lands and water trails coordinator for the Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft.
“The Kokosing was already a state scenic river,” he offered. “And we just have had a really good partnership with the Knox County Park District. The river also has lots of good access points.”
It has also helped that the popularity of paddled watercraft has boomed for about two decades, he added. “I think the water trail movement started in the early 2000s as people began buying more and more canoes and kayaks, especially kayaks. We view water trails as a way to help communities get people in the water and paddle as safely as they possibly can,” Arbour said.
Totman offered that when the Kokosing River became Ohio’s first designated water trail in June of 2005, it served as a source of pride and opportunity, offering hands-on views of what water trails could provide recreationally and economically to Knox County and adjoining counties.
“The (Knox County) Park District served as local sponsor and provided coordination between communities and government agencies that own and/or manage paddler access sites on the river,” she said.
Water trails are of themselves a type of state grant program, Arbour said. Grant funds are used to develop water trails, with funding coming from the Waterways Safety Fund — money that comes from registering canoes and kayaks. That money is spent on helping communities with their water trail projects, such paying for the printing of maps and guides. In past decades, people tended to overlook their rivers, reservoirs and other waterways for full recreational potential, but that has turned full circle, he said. The economic value of the Kokosing and Mohican River Water Trails is significant in sales tax alone and other areas such as lodging tax revenue.
The Kokosing River Water Trail, which begins in Mount Vernon, is known for maintaining its natural quality as it winds through wooded and rural portions of Knox and Coshocton counties. It includes long deep pools, riffles (a rocky or shallow area with rough water), short rapids, and scenic sandstone cliffs, Totman said. Wildlife is prevalent including 70 species of fish.
There is an important safety aspect built in when watercraft users follow water trails, Totman offered. “By using water trails, you know there are designated places to get in and out of the rivers,” she said. “River access points also provide parking areas to allow vehicles to get safely off the road.”
“Rivers are dynamic and they’re always changing,” Arbour said. “You should always be aware of river conditions and plan your water trail route accordingly. Scout your access points before you go.”
According to a guide map for the Mohican River Water Trail, the Mohican River watercrafter’s experience and its wooded banks are reminiscent of what early 19th century Ohio settlers would have viewed. The water trail meanders through parts of Coshocton, Knox, Holmes, and Ashland counties — with the Mohican State Park-Loudonville area serving as the “Canoe Capital” of Ohio. The area offers more canoe liveries than any other part of the state, with a history of 50 years of canoe livery operation.
In fact, the Kokosing/Mohican Water Trails map/guide states that the stretch of the Mohican from Loudonville in Ashland County to the community of Greer in Knox County — near the Wally Road Scenic Byway — is known as “Ohio’s largest outdoor recreational complex.” In addition to Greer Landing Access about 5.6 miles south of Mohican State Park, there are also access points at the Bridge of Dreams near Brinkhaven, and further south at the confluence of the Mohican and Kokosing Rivers.
Mike Heffelfinger, a co-owner of Loudonville Canoe Livery, one of ‘Mohican Country’s’ oldest continuously operating liveries, said this has been another typical summer to date, so busy with canoe — and even more so, kayak rentals — they can barely keep up. And they own more than 425 canoes and kayaks. Rates vary but kayaks, being for single paddlers, are less expensive to rent. The most popular Mohican River trips are 7, 9 and 14 miles, but overnight trips of more than 20 miles are also part of the business.
“River trips pick up the sales activity of every local retailer here,” Heffelfinger said. “The town only has about 3,000 people. When people are coming in to rent canoes and kayaks, camp at campsites or in cabins, and buy in our stores, we can probably get up to 10,000 or more people staying in the area.”