Don Huling is very much alive, despite what a plaque on the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway might lead passersby to believe.

County officials have been puzzled for quite some time over a plaque that mysteriously appeared on a bike path fence a few years ago. It reads: “Here marks the crash landing site of Don Huling. May he rest in peace.” Last week, there were colorful plastic flowers atop the fence railing above the plaque.

One of those who tried unsuccessfully to solve the mystery of the plaque was County Commissioner Chris Chmiel.

“I’ve asked a lot of people I thought would know,” Chmiel said.

Because of the “crash landing” reference on the plaque, County Commissioner Lenny Eliason speculated that perhaps an ultralight aircraft of some sort crashed in the vicinity.

“It sounds like an airplane crash, to be honest,” Eliason said about the meaning of the plaque, but added, “I have no idea.”

The Messenger sought out an authoritative source to find out how the plaque got there. The newspaper spoke with Don Huling, who lives in Delaware, Ohio.

“Someone else put the plaque up as a joke,” Huling said, although it commemorates an accident that wasn’t funny at the time.

...”I hit a chipmunk in front of that fence,” Huling recalled, describing how it locked the front wheel, causing him to be thrown from the bike. He landed on his head and was knocked out. The hard landing was of special concern because Huling had previously in 2011 fallen off a roof and suffered two brain bleeds, he said.

After he regained consciousness, he stayed there for a while before getting on his bike and riding to O’Bleness Memorial Hospital. He received 17 stitches around his eye, Huling said, recalling that hospital personnel had him sign a liability waiver after he told them he was going to ride his bike back to his car.

“It was several months before I got back to riding (regularly),” Huling said.

The prankster who put up the plaque — and Huling knows who it is — didn’t tell him about it. Huling discovered it when he was riding on the bike path, which he does frequently.

“I just rode by and there it was,” he recalled. Huling admitted to being a bit chagrined at the time, but was laughing as he told the story.

Huling, 63, said he doesn’t know who has been putting plastic flowers at the plaque. One time he rode by and discovered someone had put a chalk outline of a body on the pavement.

According to Huling, he’s had one other accident on the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway — that one caused by hitting a squirrel. (Maybe the chipmunk and squirrel should have a plaque?)

A former resident of Athens, Huling moved here with his family at age 6, when his father got a job an Ohio University, and they lived here for about 10 years. Later, while living in Marietta, Huling obtained a degree from OU in 1978. He is retired from a teaching job in the Marietta school system.

When trying to track down Huling, The Messenger found his Facebook page which has photos of Huling at the plaque — they were posted in 2013. The plaque is located on a section of bike path that parallels River Road, not a great distance from where the path intersects Route 682.

Although it was put up as a joke, Huling pointed out that the plaque is not entirely inaccurate.

“It was my final landing spot,” he said.

srobb@athensmessenger.com; Twitter @SteveRmessenger

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