Athens Conservancy

Sitting, from left: John Knouse, Carolyn Reilly, Dawn Handley and Barbara Flowers. Standing: Jon McMichael, Donna Goodman, Sally Zalek, Phil Cantino, Mark Shubert and David Gedeon. Other members of the group include Brian Blair, Stefan Gleissberg, Joe Brehm, Rick Perkins and Chris Fahl.

Editor’s Note: Each year, the Red Cross of Southeastern Ohio honors local residents and groups as part of the Hometown Heroes program. Our 2019 series ends today.

Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Oct. 1 newspaper on Page A1.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

That seems to be the motto of the fully-volunteer group behind the Athens Conservancy, together having completed two conservation easements this year to save a total of 576 acres, as well as having acquired 440 acres linking Strouds Run State Park to the Conservancy’s Baker Preserve, and numerous other projects.

It’s for these reasons, as well as the work done over the past few decades, that spurred the Conservancy nomination and subsequent naming as one of this year’s Red Cross Group Heroes.

“Though grant writing can be like climbing a mountain to purchase a lottery ticket, the success rate of the Athens Conservancy has been remarkable,” wrote the group’s nominator, Char Rae. “The Athens Conservancy Board of Directors’ knowledge, skill and dedication create a legacy for our county, preserving nature and green space for current and future residents, including native species of wildlife and plants.”

Donna Goodman, president of the Conservancy, said the 15 board members consider themselves “deeply honored” by the award.

“We recognize the importance of working to preserve our natural world,” she said. “Receiving this recognition tells us our community thinks that is important, too.”

The Conservancy has worked to create several preserves in the Athens area, utilizing grant funding and negotiations with land owners to create areas such as the Bluebell Preserve, Baker Preserve, Blair Preserve, Poston Preserve and others. Goodman said protecting the natural environment, which has become “increasingly fragmented, disturbed and degraded due to the impacts of our human activities,” is important as it will allow future generations to experience nature in its purest forms.

“How very sad it would be if our grandchildren could never know the fragile beauty of a monarch butterfly, or hear the sweet songs of warblers, or thrill to see a fish leap from the water to catch an insect,” Goodman said.

“Wildlife and plants must have good quality forests and streams in which support biodiversity if they are to thrive and survive,” Goodman continued. “The same goes for humans — access to nature improves our physical, emotional and mental well-being. In fact, medical professionals commonly prescribe ‘time spent in nature’ for us and our children to be healthy and thrive. Simply put, we are protecting open space not only for the forests and streams themselves, but for the very health and survival of future generations.”

John Knouse, a founding board member of the Conservancy, noted that the group was able to complete the acquisition of 440 acres to create the Canaan Preserve, linking Strouds Run to another conservation area, the Baker Preserve. He additionally noted that the group is close to adding 42 acres to the Mary Beth Zak Lohse Preserve on Strouds Run Road.

“We are creating parking lots, trails and other amenities such as informational kiosks and picnic tables at other preserves that are open to the public,” Knouse said. “We have made huge progress in removing non-native invasive plants from our Blair Preserve. We have completed a five-year strategic which will guide us through the coming years, and a Moonville Rail-Trail Connection Plan, both available through our website.”

The group also is preparing to purchase a half mile of the Athens-Belpre Rail-Trail, which would bring the total mileage of the ABRT open for general public use to 8.6 miles.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Conservancy is funding, as is the case with many groups. However, the organization hopes to hire a development coordinator in the “near future” to help with fundraising, and then hire a stewardship coordinator to manage the lands, if all goes according to plan.

However, there are other ways for people to help the Athens Conservancy’s goals.

“Every time any person removes and destroys non-native invasive plants, it’s an action supporting the goals of the Conservancy,” Knouse said. “Even better is to educate others on the topic and to gain their cooperation. Advocating public agencies towards greater awareness of this issue is badly needed. Assistance in scheduled removal events helps us to move forward.”

The Group Hero Award is sponsored this year by The Snider Family Foundation. The Conservancy and eight other Hometown Heroes will be honored at a banquet on Thursday, Oct. 3 at Christ Community Wesleyan Church, Albany.

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