Tactile Travels to Athens, OH

“Where,” you may ask?

“Athens, Greece? Athens, Georgia?”

Tactile Travel Tips Boston Athens Ohio Quilt National

Here’s Athens, Ohio (Image from city data.com)

Actually, it’s Athens, Ohio, home of the biennial Quilt National , home of Ohio University, a lovely county seat perched on the edge of the Hocking River, just a stone’s throw from West Virginia.

Daydreams of visiting the juried art quilt exhibit wafted into my consciousness every other year since I moved back to the US. Thanks to a flash sale on Southwest Airlines, the daydream popped into reality. Could I travel from Boston to Athens and back in a day? Yes. Should I? Without an ounce of research, I booked a two day trip and went back to work.

Two days before departure, it hit me: this week is Athens dream trip!  I knew that Athens was 74 miles south east of Columbus. I knew there was Jenis ice cream in Columbus.  But Athens? What do the people who live there cherish?

Calls to the Twittersphere yielded zippo (guess I should have asked everyone to retweet my request!).  The Dairy Barns Art Center (the venue for Quilt National) sent me to the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau. I surfed over to the Wikipedia Athens, Ohio page and the snowball grew. Remembering that the SAQA Earth Stories Exhibit was also in town, it didn’t take long to create my Tactile Travels list.

  • Visit Quilt National and SAQA Earth Stories Exhibit
  • Shop the Athens Farmer’s Market
  • Try paw paw fruit
  • Hang out with local knitters
  • Enjoy bike paths and National Forest lands

Tactile Travels to Athens Farmer MarketThe Athens Farmer’s Market pops up three times a week during the summer. A laid back, friendly vibe emanates from the tents lined up in a mall parking lot at the end of Athens’ big box strip. I’d hoped to feed two birds with one crumb by checking out the wide range of local food providers and get myself some paw paw fruit from Integration Acres. Picking up raspberry jam, a couple of apples and chèvre from Creekside Farms, I left armed with snacks but no paw paw fruit (Integration Acres is only at the farmer’s market on Saturdays). Never fear, the local Kroger’s should have paw paw, I heard.

In the mall just behind the Farmer’s Market, I grabbed chicken BBQ from Kiser’s. With so many BBQ sauce choices, don’t ask me which one it was… but the sourdough bread from Avalanche pizza gave the sandwich a tasty edge. Kiser’s highlighted products sourced locally. Fortified with BBQ, I was ready for my big event.

Quilt National was a wonderful art journey. You can read  about my visit on my textile blog. This alone would have been enough art quilt for the day, but the Kennedy Museum was just around the corner. Earth Stories celebrates people or projects that enhance the planet. The cohesive message of the exhibit was informative yet still celebrates a wide range of quilting techniques. Paula Kovarik, a quilter I had just discovered at Quilt National, also had a piece in this show. But let me tell you: Ohio University’s Kennedy Museum of Art has one creepy facade. Wrought iron bars on windows attest to the building’s 19th Century concept of a mental health institution. There was a dilapidated grandness, with its peeling paint, white Victorian gingerbread trim and brick facade which I am sure once gave family members a solid, secure feeling but gave me a melancholy shiver that I couldn’t bring myself to photograph.

Finding myself hesitantly stepping to the front door, even a mid afternoon espresso at the campus cafe didn’t shake the creepy crawler feeling. Once I stepped into the Museum, the feeling subsided and the stories and textiles of Earth Stories washed away. Thank goodness! Is the Kennedy Museum one of the reasons that Athens is considered a great place to celebrate Halloween? Alanna Nelson travels brick paved streets Athens OH

The mood lightened as I drove down the wooded hill and crossed the Hocking River, past the bike paths and up the hill through the campus. Athens County was once the brick and paver center of America. The bricks were hand made and stamped.  Ohio University’s campus architecture reflects that preferred building material! The campus was a glorious burst of green grass and brick architecture styles over the past 150 years. Bricks pave many of the Athens side and residential streets.

Tactile Travel tips Athens OhioWith students just starting classes, the downtown Athens cafes, shops, bars and book stores were a hubbub of movement. Things were slower at the hookah bar and tattoo parlor (apparently, core businesses in every college town this century), but then again, it was still light. Tactile Travel discovers Street art Athens OhioI After my downtown stroll, I zipped over to Kroger’s for my paw paw. Denied. Even the produce clerk was surprised. No paw paw in stock. Hmm, did I really want to detour to Integration Acres in hope of tasting this native American fruit?

Tactile Travel tips for Athens OHHeading over to the library, I sat down with the Athens Library knitting group. Spying quilts, crocheters, embroidery and someone plying hand spun, I knew this was a good place for me. Practically every chair in the lobby was pulled into the ever expanding circle. An energetic an welcoming group, I learned about their October 3 – 4, 2015 Athens Area Fiber Faire. Of course, I invited them to join Fibercamp in March, 2016.

“You’re not missing much,” they told me when I asked about paw paw fruit. Their discussion also confirmed my hypothesis. As the Tourist Bureau and many restaurants boasted, the locavore movement is alive and well in the Athens.

“We’re so isolated, it makes sense that we eat what we grow and make.” Holy cats! Athens, Ohio is the most international “isolated” town I’ve ever visited. Cuisine from around the world was available, most boasting that they source locally whenever possible. How many isolated towns host an international film festival? The University definitely keeps the geographic ties to the rest of the world.

With rolling forested hills, I would definitely bring a bike to tour Athens and its surrounding area. There are two bike shops in town, but neither advertised bicycle rentals. Depending on your stamina, consider following the Quilt Barn Trail, with loops that pass farms that have painted their barns with quilt block patterns that reflect Athens County history.

Footpaths are a plenty in nearby Wayne National Forest. Frankly, it surprised me that there were National Forests in Ohio. Wasn’t it all settled before the Forest Service was established? Turns out, yes, that is very true. The Wayne National Forest exists because farmers and miners abandoned their eroding lands in the Great Depression. The Civil Conservation Corps established wildlife water holes, planted trees and handed the lands over to other government agencies. Now a recreation and mineral resource for the area, it’s a remarkable example of how the government can respond to failures in private resource management.

I left Athens, wishing I could stay a bit longer. But Jenis ice cream called my name, and who could skip Yarn It & Haberdashery while in Columbus?



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