Yesterday, I wrote about the campground where we are currently staying at, Fork Run State Park. While it is an aged park that could greatly benefit from some tender loving care, it is situated in a very beautiful area. Called the Ohio Hill Country, it is actually on the edge of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world: the Appalachian Mountains. When they first formed, approximately 500 million years ago, they reached higher than today’s European Alps and the Rocky Mountains. Over hundreds of millions of years, wind and water erosion has reduced this once rugged mountain range, which spans from Labrador, Canada to Alabama, to its more modest heights. Its tallest peak is in North Carolina, Mt. Mitchell, and stands at 6,684 feet. Most of the highest elevations that we drove across in Pennsylvania and West Virginia peaked in the 3,000 to 4,000-foot range.
Part of the geologic process that formed these mountains, also formed what is now called Ohio’s Hill Country. It is actually part of the western flank of the Appalachian Mountains which is called the Appalachian Plateau. At one time this land was relatively flat and lay on the bottom of the ocean. As volcanic and plate tectonic activity began up-heaving the ocean floor, the sandy bottom metamorphosed into sandstone. As the seafloor continued to rise, lagoons, swamps and bogs formed along the shores of the uplifted land, trapping and burying the remains of vegetation in silt and mud that washed down from the growing mountains. As uplifting continued, these deposits were compressed by the weight of overlying sediments and formed oil and coal fields.
During the last few hundreds of thousands of years, in which periods of glaciation dominated, thick and massive glaciers moved south from the Canadian Shield and pushed over the flat lands of northern Ohio, they were bounded by this Appalachian Plateau. With global warming, the glaciers’ movements to the south gradually stopped and began retreating. Massive glacial melting resulted which formed rivers and streams that cut through the sandstone leaving behind odd shaped caves and cliff formations.
Over these ice ages, with multiple glaciers coming and going, the etched plateau lost its topsoil making the land mostly unsuitable for farming except for a few river valleys that collected the silt washing off the hillsides. The hill tops were just to rocky to support farming.
In some areas this turbulent erosion exposed rich iron, coal and oil deposits that were heavily exploited in the 1800s and 1900s. Communities sprung up around these deposits and the land was stripped of trees to fire the ovens used to produce iron ore. In some areas the land was stripped to reach shallow veins of coal that could be removed without digging deep coal mines. The landscape became dotted with oil rigs pumping up oil and gas with over 200,000 wells being drilled. Since 1860, Ohio’s oil and gas fields have produced over 1 billion barrels of oil and over 9 trillion cubic feet of gas. Such industrial, and extraction activities required laborers in large numbers to work the mines, run the blast furnaces, harvest the trees to fire the furnaces and later to dig for coal and drill for oil.
In time these resources were used up and the industries that grew up around them moved on. The workers that supported these industries were left without employment and most left in search of work elsewhere. Those that could eke out an existence, remained, but this area of the state is still depressed due to restricted employment opportunities. In the later half of the 1900s the state stepped in and bought much of the abandoned land that would become state parks and forests such as our Fork Run State Park. The stripped forests have regrown with much of the Ohio Hill Country now once again covered in thick forests of Ash, Hickory, Oaks and other hardwoods.