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OKI Wanna Know: What are the dents in the ground in the forest?

 Trees and fallen leaves conceal a dent in the ground.
Bill Rinehart
Trees and fallen leaves can make the pits in the ground easy to miss.

If you have a question that no one else can answer, maybe you can ask OKI Wanna Know. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart looks into a geological feature near the Ohio-Indiana border.

Jane Goode of Harrison is curious about a hiking trail at nearby Miami Whitewater Forest. She has a couple of questions.

"Why [is the trail] named the Badlands, and why [are] the earth forms around the trail are so weird? They look like foxholes. The trail has a lot of upping and downing and on the sides there's these depressions that are earth forms I've never seen before," Goode says.

The Badlands trail is a 1.7 mile long wooded path. Great Parks Interpreter Jack Fogle says "badlands" can mean a number of different things.

"Generally it's an area that's hard to traverse. Most of the time, it's barren with little water. If you ever think about the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, that's exactly what that is — it's almost like a desert," he says. "I think they named this place the Badlands as well because of the severity of the terrain."

Badlands might be considered a bit of a misnomer because the trail is not a desert. There are lots of trees and low plants, and plenty of wildlife.

 A bearded man in a green t-shirt reaches up to touch leaves.
Bill Rinehart
Great Parks Interpreter Jack Fogle checks out leaves along the Badlands Trail.

"I see a lot of chipmunks coming around and that brings me a lot of joy," he says.

It's here in the Badlands where you'll find the indentations. Could they be foxholes, or fortifications, left over from the Civil War? Fogle doesn't think so. The only thing close to a battle in this part of Hamilton County was Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's raid in July 1863.

"He went through Harrison down to Miamitown, which is on the other side of the park, and then through to New Baltimore," Fogle says. "He was trying to go really fast. He was trying to outrun the Union soldiers on his trail and this region would have been really hard to go fast through."

Morgan's Raiders were on horseback and probably would have stuck to the flattest ground possible, so it's unlikely we're looking at foxholes.

"Some of them are smaller, some of them are bigger," Fogle says. "They just kind of look like pits in the ground. Some of them are circular, some of them are a little bit more elongated. I would classify them probably as sinkholes."

That's exactly what Dylan Ward says they are. He's an associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Cincinnati.

"Those formed by rainwater trickling through the limestone. Rainwater is slightly acidic, naturally" Ward says. "That dissolves the calcium carbonate mineral in the limestone and it creates voids where it does so."

Everything on top sinks into those voids.

"[If] you spend enough time, geologically speaking, to open these up, you can create caves at one extreme end, but often it's just small passageways that connect through fractures and things."

Ward doesn't think there are any caves under Miami Whitewater Forest.

"I think there are some in southern Indiana, and there's other caves regionally, certainly Mammoth Cave," he says. "If you want to see some sinkholes, go down to Mammoth area — between there and Bowling Green — on the sinkhole plain as they call it, down by Glasgow, it's just... thousands and thousands and thousands of them."

Ward says the sinkholes are not uncommon in the immediate area. You can find them in Mount Airy, for example.

Trees along the Badlands Trail at Miami Whitewater Forest.
Bill Rinehart
The heavily wooded "Badlands Trail" at Miami Whitewater Forest. The severity of the gully may reveal the history of a very different landscape from what we see today.

"They're small and easy to miss when you're hiking around," he says.

As he was researching the holes, Ward says he found something interesting in the area that he's not sure has been studied before. His theory paints a very different picture of what we see today. You can find that extra conversation here.

Learn more from Geologist Dylan Ward
University of Cincinnati Associate Professor Dylan Ward talks about using laser technology to look at the landscape in a whole new way. He also theorizes about the possibility that the forest looked very different than it does today.
 a gully next to a trail

If you have a question for OKI Wanna Know, we'd love to hear it.

Corrected: June 28, 2023 at 11:34 AM EDT
Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.