CANFIELD, Ohio – The Mahoning Soil and Water Conservation District celebrated 50 years of service to Mahoning County at its annual meeting Nov. 13 with a retrospective slide show look at the last half century in the county, and an impressive list of firsts for the past year.
This was the first year the district sponsored a backyard conservation contest for Mahoning County residents with at least a city lot of property. Winners received up to $500 toward the cost of their plan for a conservation friendly habitat.
The district has hired its first program coordinator. Kevin Swope, formerly with the Columbiana Soil and Water Conservation District, has taken over leadership for district programs.
It is the first year the district has had a watershed coordinator. Heather Moser, who is also involved with the Alliance for Watershed Action and Riparian Easements, is now in that position.
The district office compiled a county-wide resource guide, listing resources for the issues that involve all landowners. And it sponsored a first “Get to Know Mahoning County … Discover the Unexpected” day Oct. 7, to bring agencies, businesses and organizations together to increase awareness of what is available in Mahoning County.
As part of the 50th year celebration, the district also sponsored its first amateur photo contest that attracted photography from 37 entrants.
Legacy in the land. The 2000 SWCD Outstanding Cooperator of the Year award was accepted by Barbara Lerch of Goshen Township on behalf of herself and her late husband, Richard.
Richard died last fall, two weeks after he and his wife had been nominated for the award and only a few days after the selection had been made.
“Richard will be cheering from up above,” Barbara Lerch said as she accepted the award.
Natural Resources Conservation Service lead district conservationist Gary Gray said Richard Lerch created a legacy in his land.
“Richard was the first cooperator I met when I started working in this county in 1977,” Gray said. “He took a lot of pride in using good conservation techniques, using every acre of his land for the wisest and best use.”
Gray said Lerch adopted no-till planting on his small grain or hay land, installed subsurface drainage on his crop land, and created grassed waterways on his farm.
His income crop was vegetables, but on his sloping cropland, he planted Christmas trees. On the bottomland with poorer drainage, he established a hardwood stand, and managed it strictly by the plan recommended by the state service forester.
On his own, on the wettest of his bottomland that was frequently flooded, Lerch developed a wetland adapted for wildlife habitat. He added to the wildlife area by constructing a pond on his upland, and then put both areas into permanent conservation easement. He used the water from the wetlands to irrigate his crops.
“Richard Lerch’s legacy goes a long way toward setting an example,” Gray said. “His untimely death makes all of us aware that we never know how long we will be here, but we can all leave a living legacy in the land we care for.”
Teaching team. The Teacher of the Year award went to a teaching team, for the first time in its eight-year history.
Four teachers of the 7th and 8th grade science team at Boardman Metro Middle School were selected for their dedication to teaching conservation, and for the extent of their participation in natural and conservation curriculum development and in Mahoning County conservation activities.
In addition, said Mary Jane Emerson, district education specialist, in presenting the award, their students won both first and second place in this year’s junior varsity envirothon.
The four winning teachers are Anne Kravitz, Carol Burke, Jeanne Riser, and Carolyn Nybell.
Bertellie Homes received the Homebuilder of the Year award and Curt Morrison of Meander Excavating received the Contractor of the Year award.
Partner award. The Partner in Conservation award was presented to Joyce Gottron, program coordinator for Austintown City Parks and District 12 representative for the Environmental Education Council of Ohio.
District watershed coordinator Heather Moser said Gottron’s involvement in 4-H conservation contests, in workshops, and in conservation education activities has been phenomenal.
“She is always there,” Moser said. “She has done everything she has ever been asked to do.”
Photography winners. Andy Boyd won the district photo contest with a colorful shot of a small boy dressed in red reaching up to pick bright red tomatoes off bright green climbing tomato vines.
The photo was also chosen for the “People’s Choice Award” by those attending the meeting.
Second place went to Dale Beckman, and third place to Greg Davner.
Sara Bernstein won the youth contest, while Eric Pickard took both second and third. Shane Lewis was the only entrant in the junior contest.
Board election. A close, four-way contest for the two open seats on the district’s board of supervisors was not settled until several recounts had been made.
Gary Ruggles Jr. of Jackson Township was re-elected to his seat on the board. Brenda Myers, who had been elected a supervisor last year but resigned in November after her husband, Clark, was severely injured in a farm accident, was elected once again.