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Saltpetre Cave: A Permit-Only Paradise
Saltpetre Cave: A Permit-Only Paradise

Saltpetre Cave: A Permit-Only Paradise

Saltpetre Cave: A Permit-Only Paradise

By Meg Berno

Posted On: Mar 20, 2015

Sure, halfway up the trail, I penned a few lines in my little brown book: “I fell to silence easily as stone’s voice opened up, a hundred greens whispering their verdant shades….”

But then I just had to stop writing and move on, to see it all, as soon as possible. It’s great to visit a location where others are enjoying the gorgeous Ohio outdoors. There’s nothing like the sound of children laughing in the distance and the wonder in peoples’ voices as they discover all nature has to offer.

But what if you wanted to do it on your own, with just the sounds that nature itself has to offer? Then you need to get a free permit to one of Ohio’s permit-only nature preserves. At Hocking Hills State Park, a tiny section of heaven is awaiting those who do.

Saltpetre Cave, named for the potassium nitrate deposits (used to manufacture explosives) found in its cave ceilings, is a 14-acre site that can only be accessed by permit – but you don’t have to be a scientist or naturalist or university group to get into this lush, serene slice of seclusion.

The pitter-patter of water drops falling into shallow pools against the face of mossy sandstone shelves. Shafts of rich sunlight falling through a high ceiling of hemlocks into carpets of fern floating on a rich-smelling, thick bed of leaves, sticks, twigs and rotting logs. The shades of green mosses and lichens possess a surreal brightness.

Saltpetre’s sandstone deposits were created 300 million years ago, before dinosaurs, while Africa and North America were still attached. It features two caves with 100-plus foot openings and one with three recess caves stacked atop one another.

Tall hemlocks, the largest population in Ohio, blanket Saltpetre in a timeless shade. Above, songbirds can be clearly heard.

“The Hocking Hills region is really a spectacular birding area. Some of the hollows here are designated as Important Birding Areas,” said Jeff Johnson, with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, as he led a small group of outdoor writers on a tour.

The moist hillsides and ravines are a popular stopover where many migrating birds choose to recover on their long journeys.

“The hemlocks here create that cool, moist environment,” Johnson said. “It can be 90 degrees on the road in the summer, and 70 degrees in the gorge.”

Don’t expect crowds at Saltpetre, you’ll likely be alone.

“That’s truly the allure of nature preserves here. It’s an intangible, it’s a restoring effect.”

More than 30 of the state’s 100-plus nature preserves are permit-only and include fens, bogs and marshes and are ready and waiting, just for you, as they have been for centuries.

Permits can be obtained by mail, fax or e-mail. At least 14 days should be allowed for processing. For more information visit the ODNR’s nature preserve website or call (614) 265-6561.

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