NEW LEXINGTON — Perry State Forest, purchased by the State in 1961, contains 4,567 acres that all lie within the confines of Perry County. The area is bound on the east by state Route 345, on the north by state Route 669, and the west by state Route 13.
Much of Perry State Forest was strip mined for coal before reclamation laws that now exist were in effect. The result of the coal mining has left behind areas that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) calls “very rugged, barren” terrain.
Reclamation and tree planting has taken place in the area, especially along County Road 48. Today the area is utilized by hikers and hunters, but it is best known for the 1,800 acres of the forest dedicated to all purpose vehicles (APV) use. The APV area in the forest is unique in that riders can go anywhere in the region as opposed to being limited to designated trails.
ODNR Division of Forestry District Manager, Stephen Rist, reports that Perry State Forest, like all state forest lands, has a 10-year, five-year and annual plan. Perry State Forest’s 10-year plan is a long range look into how to use the sustainable timber source and how to improve everything from water quality to restrooms. The 10-year plan also addresses wildfire management and invasive species control.
The five-year and annual plans outline the actual steps on how to attain the goals of the 10-year plan. The next five-year plan is due to be released in 2021. For a step-by-step look at how the forest is managed, google search Perry State Forest in Perry County to read the last years annual report submitted by Stephen Rist. The 10-year State Forest Action Plan is scheduled to be released sometime in June or July, according to Rist.
As for now, the forest has 22 miles of APV trails and eight miles of horse trails. In the past 15 years the APV trails increased from 14 miles to 22 miles.
“Another aspect of managing the APV area is maintaining the trails, especially where sinkholes exist,” described Rist. He is quick to acknowledge that smooth trails are not exactly the first choice of many APV users.
“Those riders look for the roughest places they can ride,” says Rist. Evidence of that was a motocross bike his maintenance crew recently found in a sinkhole. Only the front tire was visible.
Recent surveys of APV users show that the area is quickly becoming a family friendly area, according to Rist.
“We believe this is a positive factor for the APV area,” stated Rist. The APV season opens April 1 after closing on the last day of deer gun season.
Timber harvest in Perry State Forest is a dual certified process (Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)) which means an auditor from an outside agency insures the forest management is being completed correctly. This audit takes place annually. One of the motives for harvesting the timber is to open the forest canopy. This allows sunlight to reach the forest floor which results in the increased growth of seedlings and bushes.
“I tell hunters that if you can see an animal 150 feet away, it can see you too,” explained Rist.
That kind of cover favors wildlife as opposed to an open, less brushy forest. Rist says that hunters have been reporting woodcock, rabbits, and grouse are taking advantage of the recent harvested areas. Ensuring that this type of wildlife habitat has a chance to grow is proper logging methods.
“Erosion is not caused by cutting down trees, it results when logs are removed from the forest,” added Rist.
Dragging the felled timber improperly results in the rutted grooves that allows soil erosion to take place. Forestry utilizes Best Management Practices (BMP) during and after timber harvest. These practices prevent most erosion.
Part of the future plans for Perry State Forest includes adding additional acreage when there are opportunities. Rist commented that 180 acres were added to the APV area in the past 10 years. While most of the lakes and ponds within the park support no life due to acidic mine runoff, Rist said that the Division of Forestry has not given up hope as far as improving the water quality there.
Recent improvements in the forest include better restroom facilities, a kiosk, and concrete pads for picnic table placement. Rist said that metal legs on picnic tables rust if they sit on the forest’s acidic soil. He reports that all the trails, including ones closed in recent years, will be open in 2020. According to Rist, another positive factor for the forest is the work of volunteers from the community who help with various ODNR projects within the forest.
Whether your mode of travel is an APV, a horse, or a pair of hiking boots, Perry State Forest is open for business in 2020. In this year of closures, cancellations, and postponements, that has to be good news for outdoor enthusiasts who head to Perry State Forest for recreation. Perry State Forest will continue to provide sustainable timber for harvest while maintaining the recreational aspects of the 4,567 acre woodland playground.