Columbiana SWCD honors Highlandtown Wildlife Area

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Highlandtown Wildlife Area award
The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Highlandtown Wildlife Area, represented by wildlife area technicians Andy Merkle (left) and Vern Snyder, was recognized as the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District’s Cooperator of the Year. Jason Reynolds (right), Columbiana SWCD wildlife/forestry specialist, presented the award at the district’s annual meeting Nov. 2. (Susan Crowell photo)

By Susan Crowell

HANOVERTON, Ohio — The Highlandtown Wildlife Area was honored as the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District’s Cooperator of the Year Nov. 2 during the district’s 75th anniversary banquet at United Local High School.

The wildlife area, part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, encompasses more than 2,800 acres of land and more than 217 acres of lakes and ponds in Columbiana County. The area also includes 5,000 acres in Harrison County; 4,800 in Jefferson County; and 800 acres in Carroll County.

Longtime partner

For many years, the wildlife area and its staff have worked with the Columbiana SWCD to implement conservation practices and coordinate educational events.

The staff — currently Wildlife Area Supervisor Jeff Janosik, area technicians Vern Snyder and Andy Merkle, and Fish Unit Leader Matt Backhaus — manage the wildlife and fishery habitat. Among their projects, they create wetland areas, plant warm season grasses and food plots, conduct invasive species control, oversee timber harvests and regeneration, including large scale tree plantings.

The wildlife area is also the site of trapper education courses, including the Ohio State Trappers Association advanced workshops, which they’ve hosted since 1997.

In 1996, the Highlandtown Wildlife Area hosted its first Outdoor Education Day, which drew more than 200 students from four area schools. The event continues, 22 years later, each spring, and the SWCD staff and volunteers are also involved in teaching stations and coordination of the field trip for local fifth-graders.

75 years

The local SWCD celebrated its 75th year during the annual meeting, featuring a slide show and poster of photos of people and activities since it became Ohio’s fifth organized soil and water conservation district in 1942.

The Cooperator of the Year award was first presented in 1951. That first award honored William and C.E. Rupp.

The first board of supervisors, elected in June 1942, included: W.J. Hays, Lloyd Farmer, Lloyd Watson, R.W. Armstrong and Kim Crawford. Armstrong died in December 1942 and James Huston was appointed to fill his term.

2017 Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District Board
Columbiana County Commissioner Tim Weigle (third from right) was on hand to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District, which was the fifth SWCD formed in Ohio. Also pictured are current board members (from left) Brady Baker, Jack Moore, Jeremy Kohler, Bryan Hays and Elton Lowmiller.

The 2017 board includes Jeremy Kohler, Elton Lowmiller, Brady Baker, Bryan Hays and Jack Moore. In an election held Nov. 2, Kohler was re-elected to the board and Ron Little, of West Township, was elected to his first term.

“Some of the work that was done before us was fascinating” to read, said Rob Hamilton, state SWCD programs manager within the Ohio Department of Agriculture who attended the banquet.

But two things haven’t changed over the course of those 75 years, Hamilton added: the cooperator program, “the ones who get conservation on the land;” and the local board, which directs conservation efforts targeted to the needs of each county.

“This is a very grassroots-oriented organization,” Hamilton said of its success.

Pete Conkle, district program coordinator, said Columbiana County’s conservation focus is still predominantly agriculture, including forestry, but the district works closely with neighboring Stark and Mahoning counties when urban or development issues arise that require attention.

In addition to Conkle, local staff include Jason Reynolds, wildlife/forestry specialist; Josh Emanuelson, watershed coordinator; and Lindsay Short, administrative assistant.

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