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Beatty holiday hike a success; group hopes for 2021 events

HIKE HIGHLIGHTS — Flora VerStraten-Merrin of the Friends of Beatty Park tells a group of participants in a holiday hike held Dec. 19 at Beatty Park about the “Old Stone Lodge,” a historic landmark location in the park. She told the hikers that her great-grandfather, Charles Barrett, and his six brothers fought in the Civil War and lived in the area less then a mile away so most likely they met in the lodge and participated in the meetings, activities and functions. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — The Holiday Hike held Dec. 19 at historic Beatty Park in Steubenville’s South End was hailed as a success by Flora VerStraten-Merrin of the Friends of Beatty Park.

The group of volunteers who make up the Friends of Beatty Park have been “working hard” since November of 2019 to revitalize the park and work with the city’s parks and recreation manager and board, as well as the city manager, “to improve the park and inform people that Beatty is a beautiful place for hiking, picnics, photos, birding, relaxing and leisurely walks, and they have an 18-hole disc golf course, too,” she noted.

“We counted at least 60 hikers, and that included families, teens and babies in tow,” VerStraten Merrin said of the participation in the Saturday morning hike last month.

It began near the entrance of the park, on the Red Trail, also known as Cemetery Hollow Road because it was the entrance to Steubenville Union Cemetery during the mid-1800s. “Halfway up through the hike, they stopped at the pavilion for Christmas cookies, coffee and hot cocoa. Christmas music and natural pine, pine cones and holly decorated the pavilion and gave it a feel of normalcy after a long year of many things that didn’t feel very normal,” she explained.

The Nelson family provided a standup propane heater and allowed VerStraten-Merrin to post the event on its Nutcracker Facebook Event page, which was seen by some from as far as Columbus, Zanesville, Marietta and Pittsburgh. Those attending from out of town informed VerStraten-Merrin that they came to see the nutcrackers and had seen the hike publicized and decided to work both events in during their trip to Steubenville.

VerStraten-Merrin told stories, most taken from the Herald-Star, about what life was like during the Civil War for those home, waiting for updates about their soldiers and sailors. “Reading the daily and weekly newspaper was the only source of media to share the information from the war-torn areas during the war,” she explained. “Many times they would learn about a loved one’s capture, woundings and deaths as listed in the newspaper on page two. I can’t even imagine how heart-broken the families of this area were learning about the condition of their son, husband or brother from a newspaper article but that was the reality of the times back then,” she told the group.

The hike continued up to Union Cemetery, where the group was able to social distance and spread out and learn about the relationship of the cemetery and park. She explained and described the trail they had walked was actually a roadbed at one time where horse-drawn wagons hauling caskets and people walking alongside held a funeral procession until they reached the stone bridge and the burial area of the cemetery.

“Of course, the park was part of the cemetery — a nature preserve and natural place to walk for leisure and recreation,” she said.

As the group topped the Red Trail, they could clearly see the area where the Fighting McCooks are buried and, to the right of that, the Civil War monument and where hundreds of Civil War veterans were laid to rest.

The group was then escorted down the looping part of the trail, at the stone bridge in the cemetery and then entered the McCook walk portion of the Red Trail. John Boileigh was the guide, stopping in several locations along the way to point out specific botany features such as fir trees, ferns and mosses and rock beds in the creek bed and also on the hillsides.

“It’s always a fun and interesting hike in nature when John is involved, and he did not disappoint those who attended and had questions for him,” she said.

The hikers eventually connected to the Purple Trail, which is called the Old Stone Lodge Trail and begins at the stone lodge.

“The stone lodge was built at least in 1870, and maybe even earlier,” VerStraten-Merrin noted, explaining what the lodge was built for and by whom.

Dr. Charles Beatty donated the funds for the lodge to be built for the Grand Army of the Republic to meet and hold tri-state meetings and social functions. It also may have included some connections to the local Masonic Lodge, according to VerStraten-Merrin, who added, “We are still gathering facts and information to confirm all of the purposes and history of this beautiful historic building.” Its features include fireplaces and stone mantels.

The group continued on the Purple Trail, arriving where they began near the entrance.

“It was nice for me to just watch families and friends enjoying the beautiful outdoors and nature, and it felt like Christmas,” VerStraten-Merrin said of the holiday hike. “It really felt like Christmas to me right at that very moment. Beatty keeps giving back. It gave us the beauty of a heavy snowfall a few days before the holiday hike. We couldn’t have planned it any better.”

For information on the Friends of Beatty Park Group, visit its Facebook page for updates on work days, projects, and events and activities. VerStraten-Merrin designed a brochure about the park, and Linda Hilty, one of the volunteers, drew a map of the park with all four of the trails. It can be found inside of the brochures, which are available at Historic Fort Steuben’s Visitor Center, Leonardo’s Coffee Shop, the Schiappa Branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County and other hotels and businesses in town.

“Every season Mother Nature lends her beauty to Beatty Park without fail with flowers in the spring, mosses and ferns in the summer, fall foliage in the autumn and, of course, the ice in the creek bed and snow throughout the winter,” she said. “There is something for everyone. I promise, even if you think you don’t enjoy nature, the park will work on you, and fresh air and exercise will offer a little departure from the stresses of the pandemic.”

VerStraten-Merrin said the Friends of Beatty Park are planning winter cleanups the last two Saturdays in January.

“We are planning a ‘lovers of nature winter hike’ for Feb. 13, weather permitting,” she noted. Plans also are in the works for a spring wildflower walk identifying various types of native spring flowers in the park. Historical walks are in the planning stages as well, according to VerStraten-Merrin who pointed out that walks are leisure/easy while hikes are more advance, some are lengthy and others include a lot of stairs.

Provided COVID restrictions are lifted, “a big community picnic and fundraiser” is hoped to be held the May 30 weekend,” according to VerStraten-Merrin, who is working on a book about the park’s history. When it is completed, she hopes to have a book signing and celebration at the park.

All 2021 dates and events are subject to change due to COVID-19 restrictions and/or the weather, she added.

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