Getting to Know Ohio with the Ohio History Connection Passport Program
By Sarahmarie Specht-Bird
Sarahmarie Specht-Bird says, “If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love a good stamp.” Beginning in 2020, she took this love on the road with our Ohio History Passport, finding enjoyment and peace in many Ohio sites even as the pandemic consumed daily life. Read on to learn more about Sarahmarie’s experience, and make sure to pick up a passport of your own!
I moved to Columbus from Kentucky in August 2020, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving is always a strange experience, but it was even stranger during the middle of this global crisis. To add to the oddness, my teaching position in the fall semester was online and asynchronous. Not only did I not know my coworkers, but I didn’t even know what my students looked like!
Between days spent alone in my new apartment and the endless hours in front of my computer, I started getting a little restless. I wanted to get outside, to explore, to have an adventure. With out-of-state travel still being inadvisable, I turned to more local destinations with the help of the Ohio History Connection Passport Program.
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love a good stamp. On my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2019, I carried the official AT Passport, in which I collected stamps from hostels, restaurants, state parks, and landmarks along the 2,200-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. My enthusiasm earned me my trail name: “Passport.” Imagine my delight, then, when I returned from the trail, moved to Ohio, and learned that the Ohio History Connection also had a passport, which would allow me to visit the 55 sites across the state and collect stamps, stickers, and rubbings from monuments, nature preserves, and museums.
Almost as soon as I got my passport, I began my Ohio adventure.
Beginning my Passport Journey
I started small. My first OHC site visit was to Shrum Mound, an ancient Adena mound located on McKinley Avenue within the Outerbelt of Columbus. Although the park is a mere one acre, it is a striking visual reminder that wherever we go in Ohio, we are on Indigenous land. I walked around the base of the mound, enjoying the sunshine and considering the impressive engineering and effort that this structure took. I snapped a few photos, answered the question on the passport page, and headed off on my merry way.
I soon became obsessed with visiting Ohio History Connection passport sites whenever possible. Although the pandemic meant that many of the visitors’ centers and museums were not open, I was able to visit several parks and hiking trails. Soon after my visit to Shrum Mound, my boyfriend, Alex, and I made a trip to Wahkeena Nature Preserve on a gorgeous October afternoon. It was here that I got my first official stamp, along with a sticker reading, “I visited Wahkeena Nature Preserve!”
Our hike around Wahkeena took us along a creek, up a steep hill and across a ridge, and back down to the lake, where we walked on the floating boardwalk through the wetlands. We had a snack as we sat next to Lake Odonata, which is after the order of insects that includes dragonflies—a common sight in the preserve.
It was a beautiful day in the sunlight, and it made me excited to visit other locations.
Making a Trip Out of It
As the semester and the pandemic continued, so did my visits to the OHC sites.
October was a particularly busy month. In mid-October, I took a solo day trip to Newark Earthworks, an incredible Hopwell sacred site. On this same trip, I went to Flint Ridge Ancient Quarries and Nature Preserve, where Ohio’s distinctive Vanport flint was mined by Native Americans for centuries. Both of these preserves are impressive in their scope, history, and cultural importance, and remain two of my favorite sites that I have visited.
In late October, Alex and I went on a backpacking trip, after which I persuaded him to take a half-hour detour to visit three more sites: Leo Petroglyphs, Story Mound, and Logan Elm Memorial. Although this proved to be much more of a detour than I originally expected, and although we took a handful of wrong turns that led to stressful rerouting, it ended up being a worthwhile mini-adventure.
At Leo Petroglyphs, we marveled at the images in the sandstone made by the Fort Ancient people, and we enjoyed a walk through a mossy gorge. In Chillicothe, we hoped to visit Adena Mansion and Gardens, but it was closed. Instead, we stopped at Story Mound, which was constructed by the Adena culture and was the first documented example of a circular timber mound.
Our last stop on this trip was at Logan Elm Memorial. This is the site where Chief Logan, of the Cayuga and Mingo people, is said to have given his legendary speech under an elm tree after he attacked a group of white settlers in retaliation for their murder of his family. The power of this story seems to occupy the very ground at the park. Although the original elm tree has long since died and the small park contains only a few concrete monuments, there is a weighty presence to the land.
Even though we got back to Columbus later than we’d planned, we returned happy from our little adventure.
History on the Way
One of the most enjoyable elements of visiting passport sites is that there are so many of them scattered throughout the state. No matter where I’m traveling to in Ohio, chances are good that there might be a stop nearby. It’s easy to look up the sites, take a little detour, and appreciate a moment of history before continuing on my way.
On a recent visit to a friend, I made a 20-minute detour to Fort Jefferson Memorial Park. A few weeks later, this same friend and I went for a run in southern Ohio. As we were getting ready to leave, I did a quick search to see if there were any sites in the area. It turned out that we were quite close to the William Henry Harrison tomb. I persuaded her to make a stop on our way back.
I also travel on I-71 between Columbus and Northern Kentucky, where my parents live, quite frequently. Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve, another passport site, is right off the interstate. After many trips back and forth without stopping, I finally made a visit in May. I spent a peaceful two hours in the golden afternoon light, learning about the Hopewell culture and touring the walls of the enclosure.
This is my preferred way to visit the sites: to pop in for a little history moment, to pay attention on the way. It’s easy to make a side trip to appreciate a little bit of Ohio’s past and to deepen my awareness of the natural wonders around me.
With every new site I visit, I feel like I know Ohio a little bit more. It ceases to be just another state in the middle of the country, and starts to feel familiar, more like home.
The stamps and stickers are exciting, and so is getting to check another location off my list. But they aren’t the point at the end of the day.
I’ll always remember the quiet fall afternoon exploring the perfectly circular Great Circle mound at Newark Earthworks. I’ll remember touring the Harriet Beecher Stowe House with my mom. I’ll remember the swell of cicada songs and the blooming Cypripedium reginae, the showy lady’s slipper orchid, on my visit to Cedar Bog. I’ll remember finally stopping at Fort Ancient and admiring the intricate walls and vernal pools that are now home to salamanders and frogs.
In a world ravaged by a pandemic, and in this “new normal” of online work and asynchronous learning, it has been so nice to have something tangible, a place to go and see in person. Visiting the passport sites has helped me to understand the place I am living in, and it has given me exciting little adventures in the middle of so much uncertainty.
The Adventure Continues
As I write this, I have visited 13 passport sites—not even a quarter of the total number! I am surprised that I haven’t seen more, but I am also happy that there are still so many left to visit. This summer, as the world begins to reopen, I am planning on seeing as many as I can.
I’m so glad that the Ohio History Connection Passport Program exists, especially in a year like the one we’ve just had. If you’re looking for some fun Ohio activities, I highly recommend getting yourself a passport and beginning your own journey. There are cool stamps and stickers to be collected, it’s true—but more importantly, there are memories and adventures waiting for you, tucked into every little corner of this beautiful state.