Enjoy nature but leave rocks alone

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rock stack

This year more people are getting outdoors. Our parks, wildlife areas and streams are host to more hikers, kayakers and anglers than in the recent past.

While it is great to be out in the fresh air, certain things must be remembered.

“Leave no trace” is a common outdoor principle that everyone has probably heard one time or another. What pops into your head when you hear “leave no trace”?

Leave rocks alone

I bet most people think of not leaving garbage behind, but it also includes much more, like remembering to leave what you find where you find it. This includes rocks in the stream. Moving rocks to dam a stream or build rock piles has more adverse effects on the ecosystem than one would think.

While most anglers enjoy fishing a deep, slack water pool in a stream, damming a stream to create such a pool is unlawful and detrimental to the fish and other organisms who call it home. Damming a stream restricts movement of organisms, preventing them from evading predation, traveling to mate and traveling to find food.

Furthermore, the pool of water upstream of a dam is heated by the sun. The warmer the water gets, the less dissolved oxygen it can hold, placing undue stress on fish and in extreme cases, to a point where downstream reaches can no longer support certain fish populations.

Lastly, sediment and organic material will be unnaturally deposited above a dam, significantly impairing water quality.

Moving rocks to create an illegal dam that creates a “good hole” for fisherman or a chute to kayak through is sometimes detrimental for the aquatic organisms and their habitat. Streams need to run wild and unimpeded by man to flow at their best water quality and biodiversity.

Stacking balanced rocks to photograph for “art” removes the macroinvertebrate insects from the water, thus killing them. It also alters the habitat of the stream bed which species such as darters, salamanders and minnows require. As you walk a stream, you will see darters, crawfish and other organisms using the spaces under the rocks; without this habitat, the lower levels of the food chain could be greatly affected.

Eastern hellbender

Little Beaver Creek in Columbiana County is home to more than 90 species of fish, making it one of the most biodiverse fisheries in Ohio. It is also home to the state-endangered eastern hellbender salamander.

Many of these fish species, and the hellbender, only survive in the best water qualities. Water quality is affected by so many factors — temperature, pH, sediment load. By moving rocks, we have the possibility to negatively influence so many aspects of water quality beyond habitat.

Thanks to the Ohio Hellbender Partnership and ODNR Division of Wildlife, you may begin to see reminders along some streams in highly trafficked public areas to “Not Move the Rocks.”

While we are not trying to keep you out of the stream, just remember exploring natural areas while leaving no trace is much better than disturbing the stream ecology for an Instagram photo.

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Joshua Emanuelson is the Little Beaver Creek watershed coordinator at the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District. He has a bachelor's degree in conservation biology from Thiel College.

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