FREMONT -- If Ohio is to prevail in the long-term effort to protect and preserve its scenic rivers, an all-volunteer army will likely make the difference.
That's not a news bulletin from the front lines, but instead a simple fact of life for a stream monitoring program that has vast stretches of vital waterways under its watch. And as budgets contract and government entities see a drought in funding for such efforts, a renewed call to arms goes out.
No torches and pitchforks here, though, since this infantry wades in wielding nets, carrying clipboards, and outfitted with old and worn footwear ideal for sloshing around in the water and traversing rocky creek bottoms.
A couple of workshops on Saturday will train the next corps of volunteers for the vital roles they will play in monitoring the health of Ohio's 14 scenic rivers, including long sections of the Maumee and Sandusky rivers in northwest Ohio.
"These volunteers -- they are our eyes on the river," said Natalie Pirvu, one of the managers of Ohio's Scenic Rivers Program, which oversees 150 monitoring sites on the state's 14 officially designated scenic rivers.
"Without the volunteers, there is no way we would be able to get out to all of these locations and do the work that needs to be done. They allow us to track trends and pinpoint areas where there might be a problem."
The program attracts about 8,000 volunteers each year, but there is no cookie-cutter profile for filling these roles. High school and college students, families, retirees, and environmentally conscious folks across the board help compose the troop of often damp-footed soldiers.
"We need to check every site that we have three times each year," Pirvu said. "That's a lot of work."
The Scenic Rivers Program will be holding a pair of volunteer educational sessions on Saturday at two sites along the Sandusky River. The workshops are as informal as the setting, with an overview of the program, a few demonstrations in monitoring techniques, and some basic training in the use of nets and identifying the macro-invertebrates in the streams.
A lot can be learned about the water quality in a stream by simply using a seine to trap the tiny aquatic critters that are present in the rivers, then logging the numbers and types. The data collected by the volunteers makes its way into an annual report on the health of the scenic rivers.
The first workshop will take place in the public fishing access parking lot at Indian Mill Park, three miles northeast of Upper Sandusky on County Road 47, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. The second session will be held at Wolf Creek Sandusky County Park south of here on State Route 53, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., with volunteers to meet in canoe launch parking lot.
"We want people to get comfortable with the format, and then do the work on their own time, when it is convenient for them," Pirvu said. "Some of them will be exposed to a river system they might not have seen before, and for a lot of others it is also a great opportunity to get out and have an excuse to play in the river."
The volunteers provide the early warning system to alert Ohio Department of Natural Resources personnel of problems along the 800 miles of waterways in the scenic rivers program. They recently threw up the red flag on a stretch of scenic river in northeast Ohio where a failed septic system was damaging the stream, and have also sounded the alarm when construction sites near the designated rivers have caused concerns.
"We never would have known about the issues in those areas without our volunteers," Pirvu said.
Ohio's Scenic Rivers Program has been around for more than 40 years, and a lengthy section of the upper Sandusky River has been included in the program since 1970.
The portion of the Maumee River that is designated as scenic extends from the Ohio-Indiana line about 50 miles towards the lake. It has been in the Scenic Rivers Program since 1974.
More information on the upcoming workshops and Ohio's Scenic Rivers program is available online at ohiodnr.com/ScenicRivers or at 740-548-5490.
PHEASANTS FOREVER HONOR: The Wood-Lucas Pheasants Forever chapter was named chapter of the year at the recent "Focus on Forever" and Leopold Education Project national conferences. The local organization was cited for its pioneering work in youth-mentored hunting programs, which have provided a framework for similar endeavors throughout the country. Since 1995, the Wood-Lucas chapter of Pheasants Forever has invested more than $300,000 in wildlife habitat projects, and been involved in undertakings that have planted or enhanced numerous wetland areas, uplands, wind-breaks, and food source trees and shrubs.
"When it comes to promoting land stewardship and telling the story of the 'hunting conservationist,' Wood-Lucas is again an innovator and a leader," said Rich Wissink, Pheasants Forever National Youth Programs Specialist, at the awards event held at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center in Peninsula, Ohio.
"I don't think there is another chapter in the country that has done a better job combining traditional outdoor skills events with Aldo Leopold's conservation message, and they truly embody the spirit of the No Child Left Indoors Initiative."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.