By Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor
The name Ohio comes from the Iroquois word meaning “great river,” named after the Ohio River. However, the state has another great body of water: Nelson Ledges Quarry Park. Located in Garrettsville, a small, rural area approximately one hour southwest of Cleveland, is a campground complete with swimming, fishing, hiking, scuba, and rock jumping, as well as a venue for music festivals.
What makes the quarry so unique is its interesting history. It was an operating rock quarry, mining quartz in the 1940s and 50s. While drilling, a machine hit one of the water springs which caused the quarry to fill within days. Today the quarry is an ideal swimming spot with natural ledges around the perimeter, a rock to jump from with over 30ft of water beneath, a sandy beach area, and an island in the middle. The water is fed by a spring resulting in amazing clarity, and few contaminants. It’s tested twice a year and rarely treated, so it gives life to a variety of turtles, small fish, and freshwater jellyfish. Yes, that’s a thing (news to me also)!
Nelson Ledges is also a destination for scuba aficionados. There are several dive schools in the area that set up training courses at the park. Tri-State area law enforcement, as well as fire and rescue dive teams also perform training sessions in the quarry.
There are a variety of different types of campsites to choose from including spots in the woods, on ledges near the water, or in more isolated areas. Nelson Ledges refers to themselves as a primitive campground, so there are no water or electrical hookups for campers, but that’s not a problem for short stays. There are also shower facilities on premises, a large playground area for the kids, and a few bathrooms around the park.
I had the pleasure of learning about the park as a few of my favorite bands were playing, and the whole experience exceeded my expectations. Once arriving, after nearly missing the entrance (be sure to keep your eyes peeled as GPS takes you beyond it) and expecting a long wait, the staff at Nelson Ledges efficiently moved people through the line. After getting through, staff on golf carts personally accompanied us to our designated camping spot. We had plenty of room for my mid-sized SUV and two tents. Most spots have fire pits although ours did not. However, it’s easy enough to make friends. There were several garbage cans in the vicinity and trucks emptied them several times during our stay which was incredible!
Although the campground is spread out over 250 acres, everything seemed accessible and easy to navigate during the day. Nighttime was a different story as there are no lights, so be sure to bring a flashlight! Since we were there for a music festival, an impressive variety of food, drink, clothing and instrument vendors were set up on the main road.
The water at beach area is shallow and roped off for the kids. As we approached, I noticed everyone was on the shore but quickly learned that the lifeguards perform a safety check periodically, so everyone has to stay out of the water until they blow the whistle. Then the fun commences!
Every type of raft you can imagine entered the water; unicorns, rubber ducks, large multi-person loungers, round ones, you name it. After floating around in the clear, perfect temperature water, I knew I had to jump off the rocks.
A quick walk up the trail brought us to the jumping off point. There are lifeguards in kayaks regulating when each jumper can go, and reminding everyone that only two people maximum can jump together and no holding hands, but that’s pretty much it as far as rules. People were doing flips, dives, and gainers; of course, a few belly flops resulted. Once you swim out of the way to allow the next jumper his/her turn, there is a step-like ledge wall to help you climb the 15+ feet.
The concert was amazing, and I was thoroughly impressed with the sound system. I can’t imagine the park owners encountering many noise complaints due to the location.
Although they only hold a few shows throughout their season, I would recommend Nelson Ledges Quarry Park to anyone looking to get lost deep in the woods. It’s the perfect escape from modern day society, with a fascinating history to boot!