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Lake Vesuvius an outdoor playground, perfect for building family memories

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

All great relationships, including a relationship with one's self, are conceived by walking and hiking together in the natural world.

My love of "the hike" began as a young girl growing up on Solida Road in Lawrence County, Ohio. Quite often, on Sunday afternoons, my Dad would gather up my three siblings and I, and take us into the hills behind our home. Our neighbor, Mr. Broughton, owned much of these hills, and gave my father permission to take us onto his property for these outings. Most often, these "hikes" would take place in the spring or fall of the year, when the hills weren't too overgrown.

These were the memories of "good stuff."

Dad was patient with our meanderings as we walked. If we wanted to take time to examine a large leaf, tiny flower, strange-looking nut or any other natural phenomenon, Dad would tolerate our curiosities.

One fall, I recall, he even allowed us to gather up an enormous pile of oak and maple leaves as we took turns jumping into the earth-scented mound. Diving into those leaves, we would rebound with shirts and hair full of fragments of fallen foliage. Those hilltop memories will forevermore be sealed into my brain of "happy times."

It is from that grounded, natural place that my family and I continue to seek pleasure. We enjoy spending time surrounded by the sounds, sights, smells and sensations that only nature can provide. We are particularly drawn to places that have both water and beautiful landscapes. This allows my daughter a place to swim, my husband a place to fish, numerous places for me to photograph and write and all of us places to hike or walk.

Locally, one of these "natural playgrounds" is Lake Vesuvius, located six-and-a-half miles north of Ironton, Ohio, just off Ohio 93 and is part of the Wayne National Forest. Named for the historic Vesuvius Iron Furnace, visitors can still find slag remnants from the Iron Ore days. The lake sits on Storms Creek, which was dammed in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Yet, Lake Vesuvius is so much more than history.

Most visitors to this recreational area will immediately notice the rugged hills and breathtaking rock outcroppings that provide a constant backdrop to all activities. These activities include fishing, canoeing, paddle boating, swimming, hiking, archery, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, year-round boat ramp access, endless wildlife viewing, horse shoe pit, backpacking and so much more.

Anglers may catch bass, catfish, crappie and bluegill -- perfect for family fishing fun. Additionally, there is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk along the southwest edge of the lake. Those interested in archery will want to walk along the half-mile Longbow Archery Trail that accesses at least 25 field targets for shooting practice. Plus, the area offers more than 25 miles of hiking trails and more than 45 miles of horseback riding trails.

Those interested in camping will find that Lake Vesuvius offers two developed family campgrounds, a group camp that can accommodate up to 50 people for tent camping as well as group picnic shelters. Additionally, the campgrounds offer tables, campfire rings, grills, accessible vault toilets, showers and drinking water.

Looking for a place to hold a family reunion or group outing? Lake Vesuvius also offers two group shelters that can accommodate up to 150 people complete with picnic tables, campfire rings, grills, accessible flush toilets and drinking water. In fact, one shelter provides electricity, while the other does not, to suit your "taste." Plus, each group shelter offers an amphitheater just in case entertainment is part of your gathering.

Recently, my 13-year-old daughter, Madelyn and I traveled to Lake Vesuvius on a gorgeous spring Saturday. The temperature reached the high of mid-50s. The wind was light and breezy, clouds were billowy and the visible sky was the shade of blue found on a robin's eggs. We packed a light picnic lunch to enjoy before our hike.

We began our hike at the boat dock. We hiked alongside the lakeshore waters, which were quite high from heavy spring rains. This trail was part of an even longer backpacking trail, which is 16 miles long. Needless to say, we kept to the shorter of the two trails when they separated. We hiked from the boat dock to the swimming beach -- which was obviously closed for the season -- and, turned back, basically retracing our steps as we were unsure how long the trail would continue. I had estimated our distance as four miles, but according to the information we learned after the fact, we actually hiked a little over three miles.

Still, after days and days of cooped-up, cold weather, Madelyn and I felt invigorated and revitalized during our hike. Hike, picnic and a general nosing around the boat dock/lake area and "rock cave house," we spend close to three hours at Lake Vesuvius. We both agreed to return for the eight-mile challenge on a day we could arrive much earlier.

Nothing like an afternoon in God's playground to work up an appetite and build a relationship with a loved one. May we all take time to unplug, leave the confines our buildings, grab a loved one and clasp hands with Mother Nature in our own backyard.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.

Lake Vesuvius

The Vesuvius Recreation Area, named for the old Vesuvius iron furnace, is in the Wayne National Forest. This 143-acre complex is north of Ironton, just off Ohio 93. There are camping and picnic areas, and hiking trails, horseback riding trails, fishing, boating, swimming and the Ohio University Southern Nature Center.

Call: 740-532-4600. Other numbers for the Wayne National Forest, Pedro, Ohio; (877) 444-6777, (877) 833-6777 (TDD) and 740-532-4600 (Lake Vesuvius).

On the Web: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wayne/specialplaces/?cid=fsm9_006014