Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Return to Glen Helen

On the cusp of Spring, I decided to return to Glen Helen Nature Preserve at the end of March. Glen Helen is part of Antioch College which is currently closed, but hopes to re-open in 2012. However, the nature preserve remains open though they are hoping to raise the funds to make much needed repairs and clean up of the preserve. Still though it is a fascinating place to spend a glorious but chilly day the Saturday I visited.

Glen Helen is near Yellow Springs, Ohio which itself, like the preserve has a fascinating history. Named after a nearby natural spring from which water with a heavy iron content bursts forth giving the rock upon which it bubbles up a decidedly yellow cast. The spring was first visited by Native American Indians who lived and traveled in the area. Among some of the more famous Indians who passed through the area included the Shawnee Tecumseh, Blue Jacket, Blackfish and Little Turtle. The yellow spring was just a few miles from Chalahgawtha or Old Chillicothe, the principle village of one of the five divisions of the Shawnee tribe in the 18th century. This was where famous pioneers such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton were held prisoner by the Shawnee.

One of the first Yellow Springs residents was Lewis Davis, whose Inn served as a central point for mostly wealthy patrons from Cincinnati to venture to the town to take in the spring's waters, said to have curative powers. By 1826, one Elisha Mills bought surrounding land, including the Glen and began advertising "his auspicious “water cure” spa, just a day’s ride north by coach from Cincinnati." It was Mills who brought the railroad to the town - the tract of land is now part of the Little Miami Scenic Bike way.

The Glen land was purchased in the early 20th century by Hugh Birch, who had grown up playing around the area's wooded and limestone outcroppings. When his only surviving daughter, Helen died in 1925, Birch donated the land to Antioch College four years later in her honor as a place for study and enjoyment. The land was renamed Glen Helen and was to become a nature preserve.

My attraction to Glen Helen is the moderate hiking it affords where two creeks meet, steep but climbable ridges, gorge areas and the wonderful Cascades carved from one of the creeks provide enjoyment. Now as a nature preserve the trails are maintained, but full of lush greenery in the summer time. When I visited on the recent Saturday, the deadness from winter still was holding the Glen in its grip, but there were hopeful signs of things to come including the few snow trillium I found just beginning to burst on the scene. Buds on the trees and some greening areas were certainly in abundance.

Right now the Glen is in some financial trouble. As Antioch tries to sort out its financial difficulties, the leaders of the Glen are trying to raise some funds to among other things, remove the increasingly invasive honeysuckle and clear up many downed trees from past years' storms.

But despite its problems, the Glen is still a fascinating place to spend some time communing with nature.


  1. Actually Hugh Birch donated Glen Helen to the people of Yellow Springs and Antioch College, or so I've been told by one who actually read his will.
    Let's hope great care is taken when removing honey suckle. Erosion can be an even bigger problem if too much is removed too quickly.

  2. Great story. It does however sadden me that the powers that be have neglected the Glen so. As a young man, I spent many a night in the Glen and still have a lot of special memories of those dark nights, strange sounds and at times, the quiet and peaceful feeling that I experienced there. Someday I plan on returning for one last visit and hope I can experience those feelings once again before my time on this earth is up. It has been well over 40 years now since my last visit to the Glen. I'm sure it has changed in some ways, but it will always be a special place where I could get away from society and tune in with nature. I hope and pray that generations to come have the chance to discover and enjoy Glen Helen's alluring call.

  3. Well, Jim, if the comment from Anonymous is correct and the donation is still partly the responsibility of the people of Yellow Springs, then it would be sad. It would make a great town project to try to begin or help restore it. The place is still an enchanting visit, but the honeysuckle is really getting out of hand. As one who has tried to destroy that plant in my own yard, I feel for those who will try to eliminate it in such a vast place. But as Antioch has experienced the financial woes that finally led to the school's closing (hopefully not permanently), I suspect the Glen was one of its victims.

  4. Anyone who can spare the time , say on a weekend , to help
    the Glen with ANY work or projects should just DO IT.
    The folks in the office are so very nice, helpful and
    willing to teach a person how to help. It is a wonderful
    place to spend an afternoon walking , listening , and
    enjoying nature at her finest.

    PLEASE help them is you can.