Sunday's group of walkers are pictured in front of Smith Tannery before they begin their trek. Shown from left to right are Steve Wilson and his wife, Jill; Melody Sawyer Richardson; Buck Niehoff; Hope Taft; Aaron Rourke; Kristina Rastaturina; Gary Meisner; Jim Scott and his wife, Donna Hartman; and Mary Mertz. (Photo by Angela Shepherd)
Sunday's group of walkers are pictured in front of Smith Tannery before they begin their trek. Shown from left to right are Steve Wilson and his wife, Jill; Melody Sawyer Richardson; Buck Niehoff; Hope Taft; Aaron Rourke; Kristina Rastaturina; Gary Meisner; Jim Scott and his wife, Donna Hartman; and Mary Mertz. (Photo by Angela Shepherd)
In bright orange T-shirts bearing a “Walking Ancient Ohio” logo, under skies reluctant to give up the sunshine but for fleeting moments, a group of people set out from Greenfield’s historical complex on the east end of the village on Sunday morning with the intent of covering 14 miles by foot to a point on U.S. 50, where they would begin a five-mile canoe journey to Seip Mound in Bainbridge. 

On Monday, they were to cover 17 miles, with this leg of the journey bringing them by all the other associated earthworks — Hopewell, Mound City, Hopeton and High Bank — in Chillicothe as they make their way toward Newark in the coming weeks.

Every other weekend, former first lady of Ohio Hope Taft and retired Cincinnati lawyer Buck Niehoff, joined by various others on different parts of the journey here and there, are connecting the earthworks and covering nearly 150 miles, between Fort Ancient and Newark, all together known as the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks.

For Taft and Niehoff, and all those that join them as they “find a path” from Fort Ancient to Newark, it is about experiencing the places along the way that are off the beaten path. The importance of their walk beyond linking the sites is to showcase that each of the sites can be reached without taking the interstate, and by doing so, one gets a much more complete picture of Ohio and the historical significance and charm that each town along the way has to offer. 

Sunday they were joined by Jim Scott, retired 700 WLW radio host, and his wife, Donna Hartman; Cincinnati native and former New York City attorney Melody Sawyer Richardson; Ohio Sen. Steve Wilson and his wife, Jill; Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz; Aaron Rourke, Scenic River program manager with ODNR; Kristina Rastaturina; and Gary Meisner, landscape architect and president of the board of Scenic Ohio, who drives the group’s “chase” car.

Also joining them on April 25 on the creek were seven paddlers, all part of a group of marathon canoe racers, a group who has among its ranks 99-year-old Mike Fremont. While Fremont wasn't on the creek with them that day, Taft said when they put out the call for strong paddlers, Fremont's group answered.

That large area of earthworks were all made by the same peoples. The site as a whole was first applied for consideration to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites in 2008. Now, a dossier is being compiled on the site, and the project will then move onto an international committee before a final approval, which could happen in the next couple of years, Taft said.

Part of the reason it has taken so long, she said, is likely because of the “unusual conglomeration” of the sites stretching across southern and central Ohio. 

The Hopewell sites tell of what Taft called a fascinating culture, one that appears to have been harmonious with nature and other peoples, hunter gatherers who built these massive earthworks one basketful of dirt at a time, and with no written records found, they likely passed on knowledge and tradition through an incredible oral history. 

Additionally, Niehoff noted that the five circles contained in the whole of the site are all the same circumference, and the sophistication of the culture is further made known in the astrological elements of the creations, particularly with the Octagon Earthworks in Newark where the moon’s rise at its most northerly position on the horizon is seen within the earthwork. It’s an alignment that happens in an 18.6-year cycle.

It was noted that Serpent Mound is not a part of the Hopewell sites, as it was different Native American people that built it; however, that site is on the tentative list on the UNESCO World Heritage website. 

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks being a World Heritage Site will draw tourists to the area, they said. As an economic study had to be completed as part of the application process, it was estimated that the site as a whole could attract more than 200,000 people per year, just because it’s a World Heritage site. 

There are only 24 World Heritage Sites in the United States, which include places of cultural and natural significance like the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Independence Hall, Yellowstone and Yosemite. A full list of sites in the United States can be found here: www.whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/us.

The global list includes such well-known places as the Galapagos Islands, Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur in Egypt. Again, the vast list of World Heritage Sites globally can be viewed at www.whc.unesco.org

To be listed among these places, both Taft and Niehoff said, is no small feat and a “significant accomplishment.”

Niehoff said that as they planned this journey there was some apprehension because of traffic along the state routes and country roads they planned to travel. However, they have found folks to be very courteous, with drivers swerving well around them as they walk against traffic on the side of the roads, and some people have even stopped for chats. Overall, they have found people to be “surprisingly friendly.”

That friendliness was extended in Greenfield, too, as Catch 22 was opened Sunday morning just to welcome the traveling guests before they began their walk. There, Greenfield Council Member Phil Clyburn, Casey McIntosh with the Highland County Visitors Bureau and Grow Greater Greenfield (G3) member Susan Howland shared in the story of why Taft and Niehoff are doing this and expressed gratitude to the duo for what they are doing as they bring their efforts through small-town Ohio. 

“We want to highlight the wonderful things people can see if they just get off the expressways,” Taft said. 

For more information, go to any of the following websites: www.nps.gov/hocu, www.ohiohistory.org, www.ancientohiotrail.org, www.worldheritageohio.org and www.whc.unesco.org.