Recent vandalism at Serpent Mound State Memorial near Peebles has thrust the park into the spotlight, raising an obvious question: Why was the park’s entrance gate wide open at 2 a.m.?
Lack of basic security at Serpent Mound is just one symptom of ongoing management problems dating back many years.
Local residents and visitors tend to assume that Serpent Mound is owned and managed by the state of Ohio, supported by their tax dollars. It is not. Serpent Mound is actually privately owned by the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society). The OHC is an absentee landlord, having contracted day-to-day management to the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, which also manages nearby Fort Hill for OHC.
Arc of Appalachia collects parking fees, gift shop profits and other revenues from the park, and uses those funds as they see fit. Obvious maintenance tasks like mowing the grass have become painful controversies as the Arc has pushed to re-purpose Serpent Mound as a nature preserve. Projects as simple as installing a water fountain can stretch for a decade or more. Apparently, closing the entrance gate at the end of each day wasn’t a budget priority and is only now taking place in response to public pressure.
The state of Ohio sometimes allocates funds to OHC for capital improvements at Serpent Mound. Due to bureaucratic gridlock at OHC and the Arc of Appalachia, funds earmarked for the park can sit idle for years. A comprehensive management plan, promised back in 2004, has still not been completed 11 years later.
It’s time for a lively public discussion of what’s happening at Serpent Mound. How, exactly, was Arc of Appalachia selected as OHC’s site manager? Where, exactly, does the parking revenue go, if there’s not enough money to lock the gate or mow the lawn?
We addressed some of these issues in the current issue of Crossroads magazine, a resource guide to Adams County. Arc of Appalachia responded by banning our publication from being distributed to visitors at Serpent Mound Park. What is it that they don’t want the public to read?