Nature reserve and trail enthusiasts mourn the loss of John Knouse | News
With the death of John Knouse on January 9, Athens County lost a driving force for local land protection and recreational trails. His foresight and dedication have resulted in many local resources enjoyed by Athens County residents and tourists alike. “If you live in this area, chances are your life has been enriched by hiking a trail 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 asked others to join him. He called the first meeting in 2002 and served as the organization’s first president. He has successfully written Clean Ohio grant applications for numerous Conservancy and City of Athens projects, resulting in the acquisition of Conservancy’s Blair, Skunk Run, and The Plains Preserves; the city’s Riddle State Nature Preserve, which includes the Ancient Woods of Hawk Woods; and about 13 miles of the old B&O Railroad, part of which is now the Athens-Belpre Rail-Trail, with the rest hopefully eventually allowing the Moonville Rail-Trail to connect to the Hockhocking Adena Bike Trail .
The Conservancy’s purchase of the two properties that became The Plains Preserve paved the way for the county to expand the Hockhocking Adena Bike Trail to Athens High School.
John was also one of the founding members of Friends of Strouds Run State Park. Self-trained in GIS, John has prepared hundreds of maps for both organizations.
John enjoyed sharing his vast knowledge of botany – especially ferns – and geology. He has used his expertise to publish a set of field guides to the flora and geology of the park, which are available at the Strouds Run Boathouse and on the Publications page at amiofstroudsrun.org. The fact sheets on these subjects displayed in the kiosks at Strouds Run and Sells Park were his.
He came up with the idea of installing museum-style interpretive panels along the paths of the park, writing the text of several panels. His concern about the impact of invasive plants such as garlic mustard and privet on native flora led him to work hundreds of hours weeding them from 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 has also organized events for trail users, including the annual Groundhog (Day) Hike, which he initiated in 2004.
“I once helped John haul crates of hot soup through the snowy woods to Turtlehead Cave, where he set up a hot refreshment station halfway up Groundhog Hike,” Barsamian recalls. “He had a way of getting people to participate.”
John’s impact was not limited to the Athens area. Prior to moving to Athens 24 years ago, he had a significant impact on the Louisville, KY area recreation grounds through his work with their Metro Park System and Jefferson Memorial Forest.
One of John’s dreams was to build a hiking trail surrounding 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 the Buckeye Trail Association are teaming up to build a new hiking trail in his honor.
The John Knouse Trail will cross the newly created Canaan Preserve, connecting the separate trail systems of Strouds Run State Park and Baker Preserve. When this is complete next year, it will be possible to hike from Sells Park to SR-690 near Canaanville, nine miles of trail, without crossing a road. About half of this route is either on land that John was responsible for acquiring or on trails that he helped build.