New naturalist at Rocky Fork


For the first time in close to a decade Rocky Fork State Park has a regular naturalist offering weekend programming that is open to both campers and the general public.

Brad Willis, a Buckeye Lake area native who two years ago hiked the entire 2,200-mile length of the Appalachian Trail, started offering programming on Memorial Day and plays to continue weekend events at the lake through the first couple weekends of October.

He said that for the last several years a naturalist alternated their time between Pike Lake, Paint Creek and Rocky Fork, but he’s been at Rocky Fork all season and plans to return next year. He said he doesn’t think the public and even many campers are aware of it – and most of it is free.

“It picked up toward the end of summer, but it was a while before people realized, even regular campers, that there was programming. There hasn’t been a naturalist here for years and years, so it took a while,” Willis said.

Much of the programming is geared toward beginning kayakers and canoeists, but Willis said there are more advanced kayak and canoe programs that involve bird watching and other outdoor activities. He also offers night hikes, fishing programs, leaf tracing and other events mostly targeting kids.

On Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m. there’s an Animal Tracks Wildlife Hike. Anyone interested should meet at the nature center to make plaster casts of animal tracks, then the group will set off on a hike to identify tracks in the woods.

On Sunday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. there is a Kayak Birding program. Those interested should meet at the kayak rental shed at the campground for a kayak trip to look for the birds of Rocky Fork Lake. Supplies are provided.

Also on Sunday at 1 p.m. there will be a canoe excursion. Anyone interested should meet at the kayak rental shed in the campground to see the lake in a different way.

Most of the kayak and canoe programs are limited to the first five people to register at the camp store, but the number of participants is unlimited for other programs.

Rocky Fork is not the only state park with a new naturalist.

“I think it’s more of a statewide thing,” Willis said. “There’s a lot of new naturalists around the state trying to get more people involved with state park programming, and Rocky Fork just happened to be one where they wanted a naturalist.”

Most of Willis’ programming is offered Friday through Sunday. But he said there’s some on Thursdays and that Saturday is his most active day. Most weekends he offers some kind of night hike that could feature anything from searching for owls to astronomy.

Willis said the last big event of the season at Rocky Fork will be the annual Halloween Campout Oct. 20-21. There will be a haunted trail, pumpkin carving contest, consume contest, dog costume contest, pumpkin hunt, campsite decorating contest, trick or treat, carnival games and a silent auction. The public is invited to take part.

He also said the park has kayaks that can be rented by the public. The fee for a one-seater is $10 plus tax for one hour or less. Each additional hour or less is $7 plus tax.

The weekly schedule of events is posted in the camp store and online.

Reach Willis can be reached at 740-974-5965 or

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or

Brad Willis is the new naturalist at Rocky Fork State Park. Willis is the new naturalist at Rocky Fork State Park.
Open to public programs run through mid October

By Jeff Gilliland

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