Outdoor Adventures: Kokosing River Water Trail

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Naturalists run it to see plovers peck at sandbars exposed in the summer heat. Fishermen love its rich populations of smallmouth bass. Paddlers seek and find a general pleasantness between its giant swaths of sycamore.

The Kokosing River ranks among Ohio's most enjoyable aquatic adventures - that is, if you know your way around.

For a long time, people didn't.

This has always been a problem in Ohio. Questionable water quality, potential navigation hazards and a general unawareness of what's out there have kept many paddlers from enjoying the streams and rivers that crisscross the state.

Several years ago, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources started to change that. Their answer was the Ohio Water Trails program, which educates paddlers about riparian resources and improves infrastructure along the banks.

"The program originated when the administration saw an increase in the popularity of this eco-sport and wanted to provide places where these recreational paddlers can go," said Douglas Leed, planning and program administrator for ODNR's Division of Watercraft.

So far the program has involved four important waterways, including 27.9 miles of the Kokosing between Mt. Vernon and the Mohican River. There, paddlers will see improved put-ins with parking lots and bathrooms, clearly marked hazards and a parallel bike trail on the northern side.

These changes don't crush the rustic experience - they just provide the support most people need to feel comfortable on a good, quiet float.

Most importantly, paddlers who tackle the Kokosing River Water Trail can grab an informative step-by-step brochure that warns of rapids, maps distance between access points and describes what you'll encounter along the way.

And the way, only hinted at on paper, is fantastic.

Most paddlers should try the 16-mile stretch between Big Run and Riley Chapel roads, which I ran with a friend in June. We did 10 miles Friday, stayed the night at Kokosing Valley Camp and Canoe, then did another six the following morning.

The water was flat and easy - smooth, unhindered stretches punctuated by two or three challenging rapids. Towering forests and sprawling farmland border most of the river, with small rural homesteads occasionally popping into view along the banks.

Impressive water clarity allowed us to track bass into deep pools and see minnows wriggle spryly through more shallow riffles. We followed suit with regular refreshing swims.

"One thing about the Kokosing is that it's designated as a state scenic river," Leed said, "which means that the quality of the water is high."

For an interactive guide to the Kokosing River Water Trail, click to the Ohio Adventure Map at columbusalive.com/venture.