Updated Fri, Oct 25, 2013 9:59 am
For decades, the Haydenville tunnel was an icon in the small quaint town and a vital part of the NATCO brickyard. However, today it is an abandoned safety hazard, partially caved in with bricks that have fallen over the years and is surrounded by tall trees with weeds growing throughout.
Due to safety concerns, Hocking County Commissioner Clark Sheets recently made a visit to the tunnel along with lifelong resident Larry Horn.
Sheets’ safety concerns are shared by many in the town, as Horn expressed during the trip.
Although the tunnel has collapsed in various areas, it’s rumored that homeless people use it for shelter during inclement weather as well as their permanent home. Sheets’ concerns lie with the tunnel collapsing and trapping people inside.
According to Horn, Wayne National Forest now owns the property. In an attempt to close the tunnel to prevent safety issues, Sheets made a call to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and met with representative Scott Davies, who also made contact with Wayne National Forest representatives.
After looking at the tunnel, Davies suggested closing the cave with a bar-like structure to keep people out, but still allow bats inside.
Unfortunately, Davies implied it could take up to five years in order to get the project accomplished and recommended commissioners write a letter of urgency explaining how critical it is to resolve the situation as soon as possible.
Mark Bruce, public information officer for ODNR, said the agency is actively and aggressively working with local and federal partners to eliminate any potential hazard at the tunnel.
“Abandoned structures, such as mines or tunnels, can be hazardous and people should avoid them,” Bruce said.
“ODNR’s Division of Mineral Resources Management was notified of this situation late last week. We are working with the U.S. Forest Service (Wayne National Forest) and collectively will determine the best course of action,” he continued.
“Several options are available, including the installation of a bat gate that would eliminate human entry, but allow the bat habitat to continue,” Bruce said. “If eligible and if determined to be the best course of action, funding for such a project is available through the Abandoned Mine Land Program. Timetables vary for AML projects, but can be expedited based on threats to public safety.”
Gary Willison, a representative of the Wayne National Forest, said management was unaware of the current problems associated with the tunnel and its use by local children and homeless people until ODNR contacted them Tuesday.
“We visited the site today (Wednesday) and agree that it needs to be closed for public safety,” Willison said. “It is currently covered under a Forest Supervisor’s Closure Order, which makes it illegal to enter all mines, caves and tunnels on the forest.”
“It will be posted with signage before the end of the week, and our law enforcement officers can cite people using the tunnel,” he said. “We plan to physically close the tunnel as soon as possible, but probably not before mid-summer.
“We will close it by constructing a horizontal barred gate that is bat-friendly because it’s evident that bats use the tunnel. Because of an introduced fungal disease, White Nose Syndrome, bat populations have seen dramatic declines and we do not want to limit their access to good habitat.”
During a recent Haydenville reunion, many residents voiced concerns about the tunnel’s potential for collapse and the killing of small children who often explore the cave and the rumored homeless who may seek shelter from the weather.
Residents were pleased to hear that Sheets is trying to resolve the issue.
The tunnel was built more than 100 years ago and was abandoned in 1957. The archway of the tunnel is made from brick tiles that were manufactured at the local brickyard when it was in full operation.
Many believe the tunnel is haunted by the ghosts of the workers who were killed during construction. And some who have braved entering the tunnel say it’s very cold and they have seen what they describe as illuminating clouds.
Stretching a mile long, the tunnel runs beneath a wooded ridge, between a sealed-off mine and a long-demolished manufacturing plant. This derelict passage through the wooded area is all that remains of what Haydenville was really all about.
“We are always appreciative when local authorities, such as commissioner Sheets, bring situations like this to our attention,” Bruce said. “And we will work with all necessary parties to reach a conclusion that properly protects human health and safety.”