Apr 23, 2024 - Travel

Ohio rest areas getting tourism glow-ups

A rest area exhibit showing photos of Columbus attractions.

Displays of Columbus area attractions at the I-70 rest area near Hebron. Photos: Tyler Buchanan/Axios

Ohio wants its rest areas to be more than bathroom and vending machine stops.

  • The state is turning dozens of them into full-on tourism centers, each highlighting nearby attractions and historical sites across the state.

Driving the news: Gov. Mike DeWine cut the ribbon last Thursday on a re-designed rest area on I-70 westbound in Licking County.

What's inside: We visited the morning of DeWine's event and were wowed by an entire section featuring the nearby Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which was named last year to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

  • Large photos suggest places in Columbus to visit, with some, like COSI and Short North, featuring QR codes leading to more information.

The intrigue: A large screen also displays travel alerts and a rotation of Ohio Department of Transportation highway traffic cameras.

What they're saying: The "whole idea" is to get travelers to spend more time in the Buckeye State, ODOT spokesperson Matt Bruning tells us.

  • He envisions a driver headed from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh being inspired by the Earthworks exhibit to make a detour to Newark or at least plan a future trip.

The big picture: Forty-five rest areas are getting this tourism upgrade, Bruning says.

  • That includes 33 existing stops being torn down and rebuilt from scratch, and 12 (like the one in Licking County) getting remodeled.

Zoom in: Two in Fayette County along I-71 will reopen later this year.

  • Nearly a dozen more on various Central Ohio highways are set to reopen through 2026.
A rest area informational board about the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks.
The new rest area on I-70 showcases information about the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks.
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