Wischts take top Portage SWCD honor

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KENT, Ohio – Portage Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors broke tradition when they presented the county’s 2004 Outstanding Conservationist award to a land development firm.
The award was presented to George Wischt Jr. of Wischt Development during the district’s annual meeting Oct. 7 in Kent.
Development. The award has traditionally been presented to a farmer, according to James Bierlair, district coordinator.
However, this year, the district chose to recognize Wischt and his family for their proactive approach to conservation.
Wischt, his father and two brothers own Wischt Development and George Wischt and Sons Construction, a commercial masonry company.
The company aims to leave the land in its subdivisions as natural as possible and sells lots directly to homeowners. In addition, the Wischts donate land back to the municipalities where they’re working to preserve greenspace.
Work around houses. The district is being called on more and more to work with land developers across the county through their land development program, according to Bierlair.
Personnel follow home sites from planning through completion, monitoring regularly for stormwater and erosion problems.
Bierlair said developers are increasingly coming to him before they build for advice on soil types and watersheds. He noted Wischt does this on a regular basis and spreads the word among his peers.
“He’s a fantastic developer. With that type of teamwork, we can install practices and protect our water quality,” Bierlair said.
Wischt sees it as a win-win situation.
“One of the easiest things about getting this award was all I had to do was listen,” he said.
“These people have a lot of knowledge. We try to attempt what they suggest, and this [award] is what comes of that,” he said.
More reports. Education specialist Jennifer White reported on the district’s programming for the year. Through old and new programs, the district has expanded its education and public outreach, she said.
Specific projects of interest include in-class education for builders and developers, and a planned workshop series for homeowners.
“We’re going to tell them about things they can do in their own yards to reduce runoff and give us better stormwater quality,” she said.
For students. White also reported on Watershed Watch, a program for schools that allows students to monitor streams in the county for macroinvertebrates.
More than 20 classrooms participated in the program this year, she said. Data collected will be shared with state and local agencies for use in watershed protection and planning.
White also announced the district is excited to host next year’s state Envirothon finals at Hiram College. In this year’s area Envirothon, Southeast High School had the highest score among Portage County schools and receives a traveling trophy.
Nearly 800 fifth graders participated in the district’s conservation poster contest this year. Kayse Schmucker was recognized as the county’s winner in that contest.
Runners-up were Emily Mackanos, second; Justin Hoskinson, third; Sarah Gretsinger, fourth; and Angie DiAlesandra, honorable mention.
Scholarship winners were Keely Davidson and Laura Fudella.
Yearly projects. James Bierlair also reported on the district’s accomplishments for the year, including projects in animal waste nutrient management plans and pollution abatement, grassed waterways, heavy use pads, pond design and drainage.
District personnel made 572 individual contacts this year, not including office walk-ins, phone calls or group meetings.
Natural Resource Conservation Service district conservationist Ed Moon reported on an alphabet soup of farm bill programs, including CRP, WHIP and CSP.
Moon said the county has been successful in the Wetland Reserve Program, with more than 650 acres in permanent easements and five more contracts pending.
People. Crystal Cherry was recently added to the staff as storm water specialist and works with the Storm Water Task Force and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Phase II program.
The district is working toward implementation of a storm water management program for the county that will help reduce nonpoint source pollution.
Current board supervisor William Kibler was re-elected for a three-year term.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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