SE Ohio always home to Hocking Hills retreat owner


Josh Cross

Josh Cross never set out to be an owner of weekend-retreat cabins, but sometimes life can twist and turn like roads through the Hocking Hills.

In fact, Cross had spent more than half his young life working for the same employer until two years ago, when he bought a second vacation property in western Hocking County and made the transition to proprietor of Chestnut Retreats. And thus, after 18 years with GetGo/Giant Eagle – from bagger at a store in Marietta to district manager of properties for a big chunk of Ohio – he created a new job managing his own properties. 


chestnut retreats lodge, front


The first property he bought, in 2019, was intended to be a home so he could shorten his daily corporate commute. But he quickly saw the short-term rental value of the retreat, now known as The Chestnut, and the seeds of a career change were planted – just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It slowed everything to a crawl, then a stop,” Cross said. “Everything was unknown. But it really let us get our sea legs and understand the business more. If not for pandemic, I’m not sure I’d have made this transition to something I’d become passionate about.” In June 2020 the vacation business started creeping back – and then got busy – he was ready. A year or so later he bought a second weekend home – the Wye Oak, near Cantwell Cliffs – and he was off and running.

Well, maybe not running. Homeownership is full of surprises and Cross, curious and tenacious by nature, learned a lot about management and repairs – and, importantly, learned enough to know when he was in over his head and needed to turn to experts on occasion.

“Good property can be anywhere if you know what you’re looking for,” Cross said. He doesn’t want to buy as far south as Macarthur or as far east as Nelsonville, but to focus on the core of the Hocking Hills region – which he calls “Ohio’s premier destination for day hikes and hot tubs.” Rock House is a favorite of his among the destinations within Hocking Hills State Park. But he also values the proximity to the Conkle’s Hollow and Rockbridge state nature preserves.

rock formation


The Chestnut is a classic Hocking Hills lodging – built into a hillside with a wall of windows looking out over the trees. It sleeps eight people in three bedrooms, with an expansive living room and kitchen. It has the requisite hot tub, along with a gas grill, patio, deck, and fire ring. Cross, who pays attention to detail, likes to equip the kitchen with the kinds of things eager vacationers often neglect to pack: a fully loaded spice rack, flour, sugar, foil, plastic wrap -- plus Keurig cups and ground coffee. The property also has its own 10-acre lake with a private dock.

He describes The Wye Oak as more like a large home, with a fireplace, large living area and fully equipped kitchen. It also sleeps eight guests and, like The Chestnut, has decks, a grill, and a fire pit – but also has a screened porch, and a hammock. While it is adjacent to the Cantwell Cliffs site of the state park, it also has its own hiking trails through a wooded area.

Cross is truly steeped in the culture of Appalachian Southeast Ohio. He married his high-school sweetheart, Ashley, who is a nurse. He studied marketing at Ohio University in Athens. In high school, he was senior class president, and also state president of FFA. He accomplished these things with the gumption instilled by his parents in his modest rural upbringing. When he converted his Hocking Hills home to a vacation rental, he moved back to the Marietta area, where he grew up. And when the Chestnut website needed updating, he turned to Web Chick in Lancaster.

This pattern keeps him engaged in communities and supporting efforts such as those of Hocking County Community Action and the Southeast Ohio Foodbank. Among other things, he cuts, packages, and sells firewood from his properties and donates a portion to such organizations. It fits in with his philosophy of having a social bottom line – doing good work, and trying to look at things from the perspective of his guests rather than from his ledger.

You might say he’s in it not to make a killing, but to make a living. 



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Crissy Devine, Web Chick

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