Beautiful, pristine Stebbins Gulch a trip through geological time

Art Weber

        Ohio is chock full of places to be discovered – surprising places, like hollows, waterfalls, stunning overlooks, bogs and untouched woodlands dotted with huge trees. Places that bears and otters, pelicans and plovers, brook trout and beavers call home.
        Hocking Hills is an obvious poster child for the fascinating and unique. All those beautiful sandstone gorges cut and shaped by tumbling streams. Hocking Hills State Park never fails to amaze. Tens of thousands of visitors are awed by it every year. It’s an obvious choice for enjoying natural beauty.
        However, there are so many more, including unlikely places seen by a mere handful of people every year.
        Take Stebbins Gulch, for example. It’s a National Natural Landmark and has been since 1967, shortly after the designation program started.
        Beautiful, unusual and surprising are just some of the descriptive words for Stebbins. The gulch is protected and visitation strictly controlled, and it’s not public land.
        It’s part of Holden Arboretum, a highly respected institution dominated by formal plantings and collections. Headquartered in Kirtland, Ohio, east of Cleveland, the forests and gardens bridge Lake and Geauga counties. It’s also home for not one but two National Natural Landmarks.
        Stebbins Gulch is as unlike a formal arboretum as can be found.
        They call it a trail that visitors follow from the base of the gulch to its head, but it’s not what you’d think. You get wet, splashing back and forth across Stebbins Run, the stream that created this natural marvel. For nearly two miles, hikers work their way up the gulch over a jet-black base of stratified Cleveland shale. Be forewarned that Holden calls it a rigorous hike that can only be done as part of a guided group tour.
        It all starts innocently enough. The depth of the gulch isn’t apparent until the trail descends, following the high walls of the ravine. It is a trip through geologic time into the wild, a place out of touch with the sights and sounds of modern life.
        Eventually, the trail meets the stream that created this natural marvel. The real adventure begins at that spot and the trail follows the bottom of the gulch the rest of the way. At that spot, Stebbins Run slips over a wonderful little waterfall, the first of six cascades and waterfalls walkers will encounter and conquer.
        It’s pristine – the way the natural face of Ohio should be. Nothing unsightly, no unwelcome sounds. Only the roar of clean, clear water rushing between dramatic rock walls and tumbling over ledges and down slides of jet black oil-rich Cleveland shale. The trail rises through five distinct geologic units of Paleozoic sediments with origins 370 million years ago.
        A fee is charged for the guided tours, which are offered several times through the year. Reservations are required and participants must be over 12 years of age and minors must be accompanied by an adult. For more information start with Or call the arboretum at 216-946-4400.
        It’s well worth the effort.


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