Seven years ago next month I stood on a cold winter morning and looked down at the remains of the Lake Hope Dining Lodge. An overnight fire had reduced the lodge to a smoldering pile of ashes with a handful of stone columns reaching toward the heavens.

Today, I stood with my neighbors, colleagues and strangers as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources dedicated the beautiful and amazing new Lake Hope Dining Lodge. This 14, 645 foot structure was designed by RVC Architects of Athens to be everything we hoped it would be.

It uses many of the rustic and natural elements that you would expect to find at Lake Hope State Park. Enormous timbers cut from the Zaleski State Forest, a soaring fireplace, beautiful views of the lake and lots of stone are some things you will find here. There’s a nineteenth century log cabin that was disassembled, cleaned and reassembled inside the lobby to serve as a small cafe. A staircase wraps around a large tree, cut from the Zaleski State Forest by ODNR Chief of Forestry Bob Boyles. Several stuffed animals adorn the walls, nooks and crannies. These pieces were donated by the family of the late Rod Garey, a former Lake Hope Manager.

Cottage check-in and a really nice gift shop are also located in this building. You can find a lot of the sundry items you might need on a camping trip as well as some quality made items like Roseville Pottery, primitives from Thompson’s Primitives here in Vinton County and candles from Zaleski Candle Works, to name a few.

The centerpiece of the building is the dining room which features a lot of wood including beams from Zaleski State Forest timber and the most enormous booths I have ever seen.

The view of the lake, even on a cold winter’s day, is breathtaking. But, trust me when I say, no one comes to this restaurant for the view.

It is the creations of Chef Matt Rapposelli and Chef Eric Lee that keep people coming back. Their wood smoke based menu features things that you simply can’t find anywhere else. Meaty Mac n’ Cheese is literally a giant bowl of mac n’ cheese with the brisket baked in. Lots of interesting salads, enormous and flavorful sandwiches, and some of the best desserts you will ever taste make every experience here one you won’t forget.

I went over early today to enjoy a quiet lunch. The brisket heaped on a fresh baked bun couldn’t have been better. I longed for their berry cobbler or maybe a Lodge S’more (homemade graham cracker topped with homemade marshmallow and Hershey chocolate) but their large portions left me too full for a dessert that was designed for two. Sigh. Another day.

The dedication was a nice ceremony. We heard from ODNR Deputy Director Glenn Cobb, Director James Zehringer and a host of others. The Vinton County Commissioners were credited for their very vocal support of this new facility, particularly at a time when it seemed they would not build a new lodge. Volunteer firefighters from the community were credited for their hard work the night the lodge burned. It was a bitterly cold night, the building was destroyed before firefighters arrived and they struggled against both the blaze and the elements to keep the fire under control. It is because of these fine volunteers that we only lost the lodge that night and not cottages or a large portion of the forest.

A nice touch  was the Legacy Plaque that ODNR officials asked us all to sign. Well, actually, we all signed a parchment paper. Those signatures will be etched onto the plaque and displayed in the lodge for prosperity. Following the ribbon cutting everyone was invited inside to sign the parchment, sample refreshments from the restaurant and to tour the lodge. It was quite a party and a much happier affair than we had that February morning in 2006.

For all the speeches and celebrating there were some people who received no acknowledgement for their work. People like Randy Zeisler, who was Park Manager at the time of the fire and who carried much of the lodge project until his retirement last year, wasn’t recognized for his hard work. Several members of the park staff who have worked so hard to compensate for the loss of the lodge, to shuffle offices around and to get things up and running in the new building deserve a pat on the back if you ask me.

The neat thing about this event is that it appealed to a large group of people who had one thing in common: their love for Lake Hope and its beautiful new lodge. I spoke with a woman whose family has stayed at the park every Martin Luther King weekend for the last two decades. Another person I met had worked on the construction crew back in 1950. I also spoke with politicians and regular folks who all had some kind of Lake Hope story to tell. What a great start for this fantastic new facility!

Have you been to the new lodge? If not, you really should go check it out. The dining room is operating on winter hours right now. Hours are Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch and 4 to 8 p.m. for dinner. On Saturday morning, they offer breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. They also offer a Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 596-0601 for information or visit them online at

To make a cottage reservation or for general park information, call 596-4938.

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