With the death of John Knouse on Jan. 9, Athens County lost a driving force for local land protection and recreational trails. His foresight and dedication were responsible for many local resources that are enjoyed by Athens County residents and tourists alike. “If you live in this area, there is a good chance that your life has been enriched by hiking a trail that was built or improved by John Knouse,” remarked Mark Barsamian of Athens.
“John was the person most responsible for founding the Athens Conservancy,” said Conservancy board member Phil Cantino. “He envisioned a land trust that would raise funds to establish nature preserves in Athens County and reached out to others to join him. He called the first meeting in 2002 and was the organization’s first president. He wrote successful Clean Ohio grant applications for many Conservancy and City of Athens projects, which enabled acquisition of the Conservancy’s Blair, Skunk Run, and The Plains Preserves; the City’s Riddle State Nature Preserve, which includes old-growth Hawk Woods; and about 13 miles of former B&O railgrade, part of which is now the Athens-Belpre Rail-Trail, with the rest, we hope, eventually permitting the Moonville Rail-Trail to connect with the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.”
The Conservancy’s purchase of the two properties that became The Plains Preserve cleared the way for the County to extend the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway to Athens High School.
John was also one of the founding members of Friends of Strouds Run State Park. Self-trained in GIS, John prepared hundreds of maps for both organizations.
John loved to share his extensive knowledge of botany – especially ferns – and geology. He used his expertise to publish a set of field guides on the flora and geology of the park, which are available at the Strouds Run boathouse and on the Publications page at friendsofstroudsrun.org. The information sheets about these subjects posted in the kiosks at Strouds Run and Sells Park were his doing.
Installing the museum-style interpretive signs along trails in the park was his idea, writing the text for several of the signs. His concern about the impact of invasive plants such as garlic mustard and privet on the native flora led him to work hundreds of hours weeding them out of public lands.
John also started Athens Trails, a group of volunteers who build and maintain trails. Products of this group’s efforts include the Trace, Finger Rock, and Rockhouse Trails, which are now heavily used by hikers, runners, and cyclists. Although various people helped, John personally built many sections.
John was extremely industrious and generous with his time. He also organized events for trail users, notably the annual Groundhog (Day) Hike, which he initiated in 2004.
“I once helped John haul crates of hot soup through snowy woods to Turtlehead Cave, where he set up a hot refreshments station at the halfway point of the Groundhog Hike,” recalled Barsamian. “He had a way of getting people to pitch in.”
John’s impact was not limited to the Athens area. Before moving to Athens 24 years ago, he made a significant impact on recreational lands in the Louisville, KY area through his work with their metro parks system and Jefferson Memorial Forest.
One of John’s dreams was to build a hiking trail encircling Athens, part of which now exists as the Athens Trail from Sells Park to Hope Drive. Because trails were a central part of John’s vision for the area, the Athens Conservancy and Buckeye Trail Association are partnering to build a new hiking trail in his honor.
The John Knouse Trail will cross the recently established Canaan Preserve, connecting the separate trail systems of Strouds Run State Park and the Baker Preserve. When this is completed next year, it will be possible to hike from Sells Park to SR-690 near Canaanville, nine miles by trail, without crossing a road. About half of this route is either located on land that John was responsible for acquiring or on trails that he helped to build.