Updated Thu, Jun 27, 2013 4:11 pm
Weekly horse-drawn wagon tours of The Ridges are being planned, and could operate year-round if they prove successful.
John Hutchison, who gives wagon tours at other locations, including downtown Athens during the Christmas season, said the first tours are planned for July 6 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The Ridges is owned by Ohio University and is the former location of the Athens Mental Health Center. Buildings there date as far back as the 1870s.
Hutchison said that during the tours he will provide information to his passengers about the history of the facility, its architecture, landscaping and other topics. He said the Athens affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is preparing a script regarding the cemeteries where former mental patients are buried.
"I'm expecting to learn things from the guests (on the tours), also," Hutchison said Wednesday.
The plan is to give the tours on a weekly basis on Saturday afternoons and, if they prove successful, to offer them year-round.
"I have to get enough business to make it (worthwhile) on my end," Hutchison said.
He talked with OU officials to get permission for the tours.
"There was a whole collaboration of folks we engaged (within OU's administration) to be sure that Mr. Hutchison's route was appropriate and where we wanted it to be, and he was agreeable to that," said Nicolette Dioguardi, OU's associate director of legal affairs.
The formal agreement with guidelines for operation of the tours will be signed next week, according to David Averion, OU legal administrative assistant.
Paige Alost, director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said public inquiries about The Ridges are among the most frequent received by the bureau— mostly because of the former mental hospital's international reputation of being haunted. Alost indicated she thinks it is unfortunate that The Ridges is viewed in that way, rather than for its true history and natural beauty.
Alost said that along with the Kennedy Museum at The Ridges and the cemetery nature trail that has been established on the grounds, the narrated wagon tours could "really add to the positive image of The Ridges."
"We're very excited about it," Alost said of the tours. "We will be playing it up the best we can."
Hutchison said the tours will be priced at $20 for adults, and $10 for children age 12 and younger who are accompanied by an adult. Reservations can be made by calling Hutchison at 818-8280 or 698-8922. Those who arrive without a reservation can ride if space is available, he said.
The tours will start from the parking lot in front of the Kennedy Museum.
Hutchison said his evening tours in the Moonville area of Vinton County will resume on July 6 also. The trip includes a stop at the Moonville Tunnel. Reservations are required.