The thick woods in Boch Hollow nature preserve are quiet and peaceful. A canopy of red oak, sugar maple, and yellow poplar trees sway above, and the scurry of animals can be heard as you hike along its numerous trails.
This peace and tranquility are exactly what Francis Kessler, PhD, and his wife Joyce loved about this area. After Dr. Kessler retired as a faculty member of The Ohio State University, they split their time between their Upper Arlington home and their country home nestled in 600 acres in Hocking County.
Born and raised near Boch Hollow, nature preservation was a passion for Dr. Kessler. The couple, who began acquiring land in the area during the 1960s, wanted to make sure it would be protected and maintained after their deaths. The Kesslers donated the land to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and enlisted the help of The Columbus Foundation to establish the Francis W. and Joyce D. Kessler Fund, an endowment that would both maintain the land and offer educational opportunities for schoolchildren.
Pictured, clockwise from top left: 1. In 2020, a new pedestrian bridge was installed to allow easier access to the Boch Hollow trail system. 2. Seven miles of trails run through Boch Hollow. 3. Francis W. and Joyce D. Kessler. (Photo from The Columbus Foundation archives); 4. The Kesslers’ former home is now utilized for educational purposes, welcoming schoolchildren for field trips to explore nature. 5. Rob Meyer, Southeast Ohio Preserve Manager, at Boch Hollow’s West trail head. Meyer explained that trails at most state nature preserves, including Boch Hollow, are purposefully narrow for several reasons: to minimize impact to the ecosystem; to ensure less bare soil is exposed, minimizing soil loss or erosion; and because they require less maintenance.
“The Foundation is proud to continue to honor and steward the wishes of donors like the Kesslers,” said Emily Savors, Director of Grants Management. “Through this fund, the Kesslers’ beautiful property is preserved in its natural state. The State of Ohio uses this rare piece of land for preservation and educational efforts, where schools and youth-serving organizations have a place to experience the natural environment in a quiet and remote setting and residents can hike and experience the beauty and solitude of the area.”
As a professor, Dr. Kessler was committed to utilizing the land to help children learn about the wonders of nature.
“One of our highest priorities is fulfilling the wish of the Kesslers by providing nature education for local schoolchildren,” said Jeff Johnson, Chief, Division of Natural Areas and Preserves for ODNR. “The staff has developed an entire series of different programs targeting students of different ages and teaching on a multitude of topics. We have worked with the local schools in the county to become an integral part of the curriculum. We are not a simple ‘field trip’ experience.”
Boch Hollow is unique among state nature preserves in that we have set aside areas to allow students to really get into their studies. Normally, visitors must remain on trails and are asked to just observe and look at nature. At Boch, we encourage students during their classes to wander off the trails (with guides) to get up close and personal with nature—things normally taboo in a nature preserve.
JEFF JOHNSON, CHIEF, DIVISION OF NATURAL AREAS AND PRESERVES FOR THE OHIO DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Johnson hopes that by seeing, doing, and experiencing first-hand lessons in ecology, biology, geology, and even math and English, students will get a deeper understanding of the world around them. One added benefit of the endowment is that it allows Boch Hollow to assist with transportation costs to bring students to the site—an issue that often impedes schools from getting students out of their traditional classroom setting.
In addition to being an educational site, the nature preserve is also a popular hiking spot.
“Being a large preserve, it has provided an opportunity for us to create a rather extensive trail system that takes hikers through all the different habitat types found here,” said Johnson. The seven miles of trails pass through dry ridgetop forests, young successional forests, small grass/prairie-like openings, mesic hillsides, and valleys, along with intermittent streams.
Johnson said the endowment has provided funds not only for implementing educational programs but also for improving the site for everyone’s benefit. Most recently, a large paved parking area and pedestrian bridge were installed to allow easier access to the trail system.
Thanks to the passion and commitment of Dr. and Mrs. Kessler, this land will continue to be treasured for generations to come.
Pictured above: Robinson Falls at Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve. Access to Robinson Falls is by permit only; permits can be obtained at ohiodnr.gov.