Sunday, September 9, 2012

Zaleski Backpacking Trail Revisited

I received an anonymous comment on my post about the Zaleski Backpacking Trail. I originally intended to just reply to the comment, but my reply became longer than intended, so I decided to make a blog post out of it.

Here is the comment:

“Our metroparks have lovely paved or gravel trails which are well kept and close to most. This Zaleski up-and-down, relatively unimproved trail sounds more like an actual hike through the hills/woods, if that's what flavor you're looking for. Trees fall, it rains...why mess with nature and move the fallen trees or build bridges over muddy areas or streams, or lay down asphalt to make every inch handicap-accessible. That is not nature, nor hiking.” - Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for commenting. Sorry it took so long in getting your comment posted, things have been hectic at my household lately causing me to neglect my poor blog.

I’d like to make a few points regarding your comment. No, I am not looking for ‘asphalt’ trails. My complaint with the trails at Zaleski has to do with the way that they are laid out. When you lay out trials in hilly areas (and Zaleski is definitely hilly) you need to consider effect the trail will have on the drainage of the hillside. Zaleski doesn’t make use of switchbacks nor does it have much in the way of erosion control. Since water uses the path of least resistance and the trail is devoid of vegetation, the trails in Zaleski turn into streams during rain storms. This makes them prone to erosion and more difficult to hike. Humans preferring to walk on a smooth surface will walk beside the trail which removes vegetation causing water to flow down and erode… it becomes a vicious cycle that makes a greater impact on the ecosystem than a properly designed trail otherwise would.

Next, bridges across streams and marshy areas are not so much for the hiker’s convenience, but to protect the streams and marshes themselves. Hikers crossing streams will eventually damage the natural banks, leading to erosion and soil loss, etc. And hikers looking to go around marshy or muddy trails trample native plants damaging far more vegetation than if the trail were maintained well.
Finally, blow downs happen. I understand this. In a wilderness area I expect to navigate over, around and through them, and I have. But this is not a wilderness area. It’s a State Park. Specifically it is a State Park in Ohio, as state that I live in and pay tax money to. I really do expect some maintenance done to keep the park serviceable. Again, hiking around downed trees has a greater impact on the environment than removing the tree.

All this aside, Zaleski encompasses some beautiful country. The hills, streams, sandstone outcroppings and forest are all beautiful. I really wish I could look past its major shortcomings, which are not the above three items.

Here’s what I see as Zaleski’s major shortcomings:

  • The campsites are on the ridge tops, not near streams. I’m sorry; I really like camping near streams. I realize that it is probably ecologically better to have the campsites on the ridges since there is less chance for humans to contaminate streams with dish soap and other wastes. BUT the camps at Zaleski really leave a lot to be desired.
  • The camps are too easily accessible by road. Because of this fact Zaleski seems to be known in the area as a free camping spot. I saw several coolers, lawn chairs and other implements that I know didn’t get carried in from the trail head parking area. The number of beer bottles and cans strewn around the weeds are a testament to this.

Due to these two reasons I will not be back to Zaleski. It’s a shame to because Zaleski offers a challenging backpacking experience that pushes average hikers with terrain not usually found in the Midwest. Unfortunately though it really doesn’t offer much in the way of reward once you make it to your destination.

Thanks for reading!
~Occasional Hyker


  1. Thanks for the review of the trail! I was wondering if you think the entire trail is doable in one day? I'm a pretty fit woman runner who knows how to fuel and hydrate properly. Also, is it safe to do solo? Thanks in advance!

    1. I met a woman who was solo jogging at least part of the trail in a day. Zaleski has some good hills so if you are an experienced trail runner you'd likely enjoy the challenge. As far as safe? I'm not sure. The trail runs through state forest and game lands. There are hunters out there and there are a few sections where you are a not near any roads. That's a risk/reward decision that I don't feel comfortable assisting with.

  2. Nice extended reply to the 'anonymous comment'. I backpacked Zaleski a number of years ago so don't quite remember... Was this the trail that had fallen tree after fallen tree across the trail? That was annoying. Kudos for mentioning how our taxpayers money should be going towards maintenance of this park. You made many good other points, also.


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Thank you,
The Management