Volunteers help preserve Chagrin and other scenic rivers

The following article originally appeared in the Chagrin Valley Times. Our thanks to CVT for permission to republish the article here.

Chagrin Valley Times

Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 


Staff of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Scenic Rivers program will be working in the river this week training in stream habitat evaluation in Russell Township. They will be in a branch of the Chagrin River in the Bob Hall Field.

The Ohio Scenic Rivers program recognizes and designates wild, scenic and recreational rivers in the state. The program was initiated in 1968 and was the first of its kind in the nation, according to Matthew Smith who is certified to do stream habitat evaluation for the program. He is assistant regional scenic river manager.

In this area, the main stem of the Chagrin River and portions of the Aurora Branch which runs through Bainbridge and the East branch of the Chagrin River have been named scenic rivers since the 1970s. Another section, from the confluence of the Aurora branch in Bentleyville and the Chagrin River to Woodie Brook Road in Chardon was designated Scenic in 2002, Mr. Smith said.

The goal is to help promote conservation activities and educate the public about water quality. Those efforts can aid efforts to conserve the highest water quality streams in Ohio. It is cheaper to maintain a stream than to restore one, Mr. Smith pointed out.

“The Chagrin River is one of the higher quality river systems in the state,” he said. “It is one of 14 currently designated a scenic river.”

The Chagrin River is the only area in the state that has held native brook trout, Mr. Smith noted.

There are six state-designated wild and scenic rivers in Northeast Ohio, the largest number in the state.  A wild designation confirms that it holds the highest quality of water.

There are three designated wild rivers and they include the Grand River, Conneaut Creek and Little Beaver Creek.  The Grand River and the Little Beaver and Conneaut met that criteria and are in remote areas, Mr. Smith said.

The Little Beaver Creek was the first state-designated wild river. The endangered hellbender salamander, which can grow to 2 feet long, is found in that river.

Clean water requires good land use around the rivers, Mr. Smith said. “To maintain high water quality, we promote maintaining a wooded riparian buffer along the streams. The buffers filter water before it gets to the stream and with tree roots, the banks are stabilized and provide habitat for animals living in and around the stream.”

Good riparian buffers required by communities are helpful in developed areas leaving the natural areas with trees intact along the streams.

Preventing building right up to the river banks helps to slow water run-off and nutrients flowing into the river and causing pollution, Mr. Smith said. “It helps if you don’t build right next to the stream, preventing flooding and erosion.

“There are ways to check on water quality, and the Ohio Scenic Rivers program trains volunteer citizens to track the water quality of our state-designated scenic rivers,” he said. “We do stream quality and water monitoring with trained volunteers.”

During regular monitoring, volunteers check for the aquatic insects that live in the stream and the total suspended solids.

The state uses data from volunteers to write an annual report, Mr. Smith said.

 “Volunteers go three times in a year to the same spot in the river,” he said. They check for macro-invertebrates and they sample total suspended solids. Some aquatic insects cannot tolerate pollution, some are moderately intolerant and others are more tolerant of pollution. If they find mostly insects that are tolerant of pollution, then it is more likely there is some type of pollution, Mr. Smith said.

If there are failing septic systems in an area, certain organisms that will thrive in that environment will most likely be found. “That’s a key and you know something is going on,” he said. Data is published on the agency website.

In addition, every five years, staff members do stream habitat evaluations to ensure the stream is still high quality. “That is why regular training by staff is important in keeping up with the Ohio EPA standards,” he said.

“There are so many reasons to keep our rivers clean,” Mr. Smith said. “If they are kept clean, they provide a great resource for people to enjoy. The rivers provide opportunities for fishing, canoeing, swimming and kayaking.” Many fish living in Lake Erie will spawn in the rivers, and will thrive.

Many rivers, including the Chagrin, flow into Lake Erie, a major drinking water source for Northern Ohio. “It is much easier to keep the lake clean if we keep our river systems clean.

“The more conservation efforts that we make as a whole,” he added, “the higher our water quality will be. And the more we can do to promote conservation, the higher quality of life we will have.

“We need partners and citizens to help with those efforts.”

Those who would like to get involved in the Ohio Scenic River program can call 330-298-9195 or email Mr. Smith at

Categories: News

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