It had been a while since I had been to the Oxford area; the last time was to give an on campus speech last year, so it had been some time since I had made my way into Hueston Woods State Park. However, for likely the 60th to 70th time in my life red lights were filling my rear view mirror and a patrol officer was at my window telling me I was driving too fast—as determined by some cry baby, wimpy, leather faced, cheating whore of a politician afraid of riding the Merry-Go-Round at a summer fair. I was being pulled over for going 40 in a 25 MPH zone. My answer to the State Officer when asked if I knew how fast I was going was that I had no idea the speed limit was so slow. For me, it was impossibly slow. I can ride a bicycle faster than 25 MPH. That is simply too slow for a long series of roads. What are they protecting at the park with such a slow speed limit, turtles, rabbits and squirrels? Worse yet, where I was pulled over was right at the entrance where fisherman and boaters were pulling in for some early morning access to Action Lake which is currently undergoing a $15 million dollar face lift at the damn. The lake receives roughly 1.8 million visitors per year so Huston Woods still gets a lot of activity after many years but during my recent visit, it was easy to see that there was a lot more that they could do if they only had the right attitude.
I grew up with Hueston Woods so I know its history very well and am in a position to offer some criticisms that are needed if it wants to sustain itself into the future. As a kid I spent many summers at camp there between Boy Scout groups, my church and in my teen years I was actually part of the chain gang that had to walk the entire park and pick up trash around the entire loop. That is a long story but the short of it was that I was loaded onto a van from the Hamilton jail and driven with all the other juvenile convicts to the lake to spend the day performing “community service.” I learned to hate the pompous over-weight delinquency officers who rode behind us in the van playing music as we picked up trash around the lake for everyone to gawk at. I took the point position and walked faster than everyone else on purpose just to drive things along and put pressure on the people behind me. I was yelled at a lot that day, and I noticed that the state employees seemed very comfortable at the park. Our chain gang launched from the left side of the lodge and it didn’t take long to realize that one of the two guys in the van was having an affair with a woman who worked in the gift shop who was married. So I had an opportunity to see the underpinnings of the park at a young age where the seeds of apathy had clearly been placed—which was reflected 30 years later in the visit I had with my family in the middle of a summer week.
I always loved the lodge and wanted to marry my wife there, but her parents talked me out of it in favor of the Becket Ridge Country Club, of which they were members. For most of my youth up until that event with the chain gang I loved the lodge and used it as a base station for many adventures. So it was a good pick for a wedding to my wife. This time returning I was with my grown family and was introducing my grandson to the place—visiting the game room it literally hadn’t changed much since I had been a teenager. In fact, it looks like the Ms. Pac Man machine was still in the same place. Instead of the reunion with the lodge being something of reverence, it saddened me to see the place going downhill quick. It was still nice, but had the tired look of a place uncared for.
Elsewhere in the park the marina looked wore out and the wildlife exhibit was in disrepair. They still had a nice mountain lion on display and some large birds including an eagle, but the passion had obviously left the management of the area. Hueston Woods has plenty of opportunity for revenue not directly related to tax payers; they of course have the lodge traffic year round which attracts many lodging dollars for people taking in-state vacations. There are also cabin rentals, horseback riding opportunities, boat rentals on the lake and other similar activity—so the park should not look like it did—run down and tired.
Granted, since I was a kid my worldly vision had dramatically opened. The lake used to look really big to me and it seemed impossibly large to walk the entire route around it as a member of the chain gang. Now it looked small, I have walked a lot further for a lot less reason, and have seen places much, much nicer than the lodge in far away locations around the world. As I played many video games from that lodge I used to wonder what kind of adventures I’d experience in life, but none of them seemed to have the capability to surpass Hueston Woods. But within a few years of my chain gang experience I quickly learned that just about everywhere was nicer which was sad, because there were opportunities in Hueston Woods that other State Parks simply didn’t have—particularly the proximity of Miami University nearby. Students use the Hueston Woods beach as a natural sun bathing destination and place to play volleyball and study away from their congested dorm rooms.
So you’d think that the State Officer pulling me over would understand that sitting on the side of the road pulling people over for going 40 MPH under the guise of safety would understand how negative his presence was to financial investment into the area—which it badly needed. The guy literally had nothing better to do than to sit in his squad car and pull people over all day so that their speeding cars might not run over some ducks. In fact, elsewhere around the park are the typical greenie weenie messages that come straight out of the Al Gore handbook of progressive political discourse such as having people clean seeds off their shows before walking into a forest to minimize the transference of hostile plants that crowd out the sunlight to more delicate vegetation. I took my grandson and daughter to the fishing pier which was a long walk for his little feet, but was perplexed by the message on the trail signs. If state officials could make such statements about plant life then why couldn’t they make the same judgments about human beings—there are certain groups of human beings who behave just as aggressively as the plants they were talking about at the ODNR advisory board? The same mentality could be declared in neighborhoods where welfare recipients’ crowd out private investment because they tend to present themselves as unkempt and destructive pushing out people who wash their cars, care for their lawns and generally try to improve their surroundings. And as that thought crossed my mind it appeared that those same types of people were at Hueston Woods. The lady in front of us at the nature walk was with a group of kids who looked like they climbed out of the trunk of a car covered in garage sale items. She was a beat up woman who had a cheap shoulder-blade tattoo of some kind of flower and a bleeding heart. It was hard to tell because she was about my age and the ink had smeared over time all running together. As I looked around there were a lot of people like her there and a lot fewer of the type of people I remembered as a kid who had boats at the marina who would come to the park to go sailing on the weekends. It appeared that the parasitic humans were crowding out the contributing humans and the park was suffering. Yet the park rangers could make that distinction with plant life, but not with their human visitors—very interesting and much to their own detriment.
As I waited for the State Officer to return with my driver’s license and insurance card I couldn’t help but think of all the lost opportunities at Hueston Woods compared to a place like Disney World. Both parks are roughly the same age but one looks as new as the day it was built and the other looks like it is a few years away from decaying away into nothing. The difference really is the people, at Disney World the employees look happy to have a job and be working. At Hueston Woods the employees give off the impression that they’d rather be watching afternoon tabloid television or sitting in a patrol car giving tickets so they could save some tree frog that might jump into the road—just because they have nothing better to do. At Disney World there is plenty of wildlife and they reproduce robustly, and there are not unfriendly park rangers running around trying to issue tickets every five feet—because they want visitors in Disney World. But at Hueston Woods the general impression is that humans are intruding on a natural habitat and that they aren’t welcome unless they follow certain parameters of rules.
High quality people look to have left the park or have gotten old and died off leaving behind the dregs. The dregs were part of the Hueston Woods experience of my youth but with them were people who had new cars, boats, and were business professionals in their private life who enjoyed the recreation at the lake. So both types of people were there, but these days, it appears that one type of person is coming far less than the other which is driving down the quality of the park.
Growing up I saw both types of people on a regular basis. The criminals that I had to do community service with likely all grew up to be the dregs of society now. It was easy to see them then, and now they were like that girl with a thirty year old tattoo on her shoulder which had sagged and become distorted with age. And I went to Hueston Woods with my church groups and Boy Scout organizations where suburbanite parents at least attempted to care about the value of things. Clearly one group was missing and the other had multiplied over the years—and Hueston Woods was suffering for it. Making it worse was the patrol car discouraging me from bringing my family to Hueston Woods for the day because they guy had nothing else to do but sit in the grassy area off the side of the road by the mountain bike parking lot and pull people over.
My reaction to the State Officer was that I wanted out of the park as quickly as possible. When we were done with each other I took the nearest road out and left. Our day at Hueston Woods had concluded and it’s likely that I won’t return for another dozen or more years. 25 MPH is simply too slow for a car of any kind, and is not friendly to visitors. The park and its employees gave off the impression that visitors were lucky to be there and that is simply the wrong attitude. In response quality people are not visiting the park in the kind of numbers that can sustain it as the dregs are continuing to come because they have access to a free beach. That problem is one of management where the effort into saving trees from hostile plants failed to take the same measures to preserve their internal economy leaving the place to devolve into a sad state of disrepair only to be devoured by the dregs of society and their parasitic nature.