The 3,000-acre Hueston Woods State Park is an important asset and resource for the Oxford community, but remains just out of sight to many of the Miami University students who spend four years less than five miles away from its natural beauty.
Oxford Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said she thinks local people who are long-term residents know more about the park and what it offers than students at Miami do.
“Sometimes there’s a little bit of a disconnect even though we’re so close to Oxford,” agreed Hueston Woods Naturalist Shawn Conner. “I think maybe some students don’t always realize the opportunities that they can have here, this close.”
According to Conner, Hueston Woods representatives try to come to Miami’s Mega Fair at the start of the school year to tell students about what the park has to offer. Greene said in the past, the park and the university have collaborated to create coordinated social media posts on accounts that students follow.
Acton Lake covers 625 acres in the heart of the park and is utilized for a variety of water sports, as well as local fish and wildlife. One Miami group well aware of the park is the Miami Rowing Club, which practices there every day during the week and stores its equipment in a building located on park property.
According to the club’s President Alec Greenberg, a junior majoring in economics, Miami’s rowing team is one of the only student-run teams in the country. He joined the club and went to Hueston Woods a couple days after arriving at Miami for his freshman year.
“So, literally since I’ve been at college I’ve been at Hueston Woods, which is fun,” Greenberg said. “Ever since then I’ve kind of felt like a steward of the park.”
Keeping a good relationship with the park rangers and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is very important for the rowing team, according to the women’s rowing captain Janie Petraglia and Greenberg. The rangers keep them safe and help them when they need it. If there was ever an incident on the water at practice, the rangers would be there to help them, they said.
“The park takes care of us, we take care of the park,” Greenberg said. “I hope it’s a good relationship.”
Miami also uses Hueston Woods for research purposes. Biology Professor David Gorchov said he does research on invasive plant species and deer with his students at the park. The state park has a nature preserve which is part of the Ohio State Preserve System, according to Gorchov. The preserve contains an area of the beech-maple forest that once covered a strip of Ohio from the southwest area to the northeastern corner of the state, according to the park’s visitors bureau.
Gorchov said he doesn’t take regular classes to the park, but undergraduates, graduate students, and students from other schools all have participated in research on the property in the past.
According to the visitors bureau, Hueston Woods has more than 40 miles of hiking and biking trails, a golf course, and a lodge to accommodate overnight guests. Greene said city and university trails and the opportunities the state park offers complement each other in a way that provides a great resource for the region.
Since quite a few students don’t know about what the park provides, rowing Vice President Tristan Sprenger said more people should be told about it. According to Ivan Wehner, the captain of the men’s rowing team, starting volunteer programs such as trash pickup at the park could attract more students. Petraglia said holding a social event for new students at Hueston Woods could help as well.
“Every Miami student should go,” Gorchov said.