MILLWOOD — In actual miles, it isn’t far from downtown Mount Vernon to the White Oak Inn. But that doesn’t keep it from feeling like a different world: Rural, lush and serene.
“It’s hard to believe something like this is only 10 minutes from Coshocton Avenue,” said Jonette Curry, Knox County Auditor and Convention and Visitors Bureau board member.
Curry is one of numerous Knox County officials and business owners known as the Partners-in-Tourism, who meet monthly to network and learn about attractions in the area. Wednesday, the partners met at the White Oak Inn, an internationally known bed-and-breakfast located on Ohio 715, just over a mile from the Coshocton County line.
The inn is perched on the valley wall overlooking the Kokosing River, and is owned and operated by Ian and Yvonne Martin, who came from Canada to take on the inn 17 years ago. The inn offers 10 rooms, including two log cabin cottages complete with hot tubs, all set on a beautiful but informally landscaped 14 acres of land. Attractions include a barn, woods and fields leading down to the river.
“The river’s the reason we’re here,” said Craig Gilmore of Kokosing Camp and Canoe in Millwood, who spoke about the history of his family’s operation of the campground and canoe livery. He said that on holiday weekends, he has as many as 1,200 visitors.
Gilmore added that as the years go by, an increasingly important part of his business is seasonal campers, who leave their campers on site and visit them as often as possible. He said that such people make up 85 of the 160 sites available at the 100-acre campground; as the economy has softened in the last year, people haven’t stopped camping, but have instead camped closer to home. Gilmore said he has 30 seasonal campers who live within a 20-minute drive of Millwood.
Patty Thatcher from Scrapbook Haven on Cavallo Road, just outside Millwood, also spoke about her business, which attracts people from all over. The business has built its national reputation not on extensive advertising, but on word of mouth, scrapbooking classes for customers and an in-depth inventory. The store includes a classroom area reserved for 14-hour weekend “Crop Till You Drop” scrapbooking marathons and technique classes.
Gary Moore, a retired naturalist from the Columbus Metro Parks, has become the White Oak Inn’s in-house naturalist in recent years, leading Wildlife Weekends and other interpretive activities that have built up a core following of returning patrons. He said the best sessions are held in early May, when he can take people from watching for migratory birds to looking at wildflowers to searching for morel mushrooms to doing owl walks calling for screech owls, barred owls and great horned owls. Moore pointed out the special attractions of Knox County’s waterways.
“We’re the only county in the state of Ohio that has two scenic rivers,” Moore said.
He pointed out the health of the Kokosing, which boasts 78 species of fish, including some very rare ones. Moore said the area is richer now than when he grew up in Knox County, citing the return and resurgence of wild turkeys, beavers, otters and bald eagles along the river.
“It’s a rich area and it’s being discovered,” Moore said, adding that it was up to everyone to share it, but at the same time to protect it and not spoil it.
The event was one in a monthly series of tourism education events organized by Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Pat Crow.