There had been plans for a housing development or golf course nearthe creek.
CANFIELD -- Conservation group members peer eagerly over the tiny creatures they've trapped in 3-foot-square nets pulled from Sawmill Creek.
Squirming and swimming beneath their gazes are water penny larvae, mayfly nymphs, crayfish, and pouch snails.
These minuscule creatures harvested from the creek Wednesday are the keys to unlocking the waterway's quality level.
Preservation funds: They also were the keys to securing the funding that has preserved 150 acres surrounding the creek.
Without these trademarks of a healthy food chain, the land would likely have been cleared for a golf course or a 350-home development, preservation workers said.
"I found this area last summer and had to find a way to save it," said Susan Dicken, director of park development for the Mill Creek MetroParks.
The land owner had given her a December deadline to purchase the property, far earlier than the date when Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grant money would be available.
She turned to the Trust for Public Land in Ohio, and the park district quashed developers' plans by quickly purchasing the land. The district leases the land from the trust for $1 per year and will buy the property later this year after it receives the grant money, Dicken said.
Preservationists said the move was necessary because the creek empties into Meander Reservoir, which provides drinking water to 300,000 area residents. Preservation helps keep drinking water clean and reduces the amount of treatment water must undergo before it is piped into homes. That, Dicken said, saves taxpayers money.
"We're blessed in this area with a lot of water. There's no guarantee it's going to stay clean if we don't do something to preserve our resources," she added.
A housing development or golf course would have leached pesticides and herbicides into the water and also destroyed trees, increasing erosion and other runoff, park and township officials said.
"It would have made a beautiful development or a nice golf course, but it's much more desirable this way," said Dave Morrison, township zoning inspector who also serves on the Mahoning Soil and Water Conservation District. "And it's much more important to the community, too."
On Wednesday, members of the conservation group AWARE visited the creek to monitor water quality by fishing out the tiny invertebrates. Among them were members of local health departments, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the state EPA, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and Youngstown State University.
Important effort: Preserving the land is "incredibly important," said Dr. Scott Martin, head of civil and environmental engineering at YSU, who is conducting a study with the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, the agency that treats the drinking water.
"One of the most important things is public awareness," he added. "It's important to get more and more people involved in knowing where their drinking water comes from."
Amid the shade trees, chirping birds, orange butterflies, rippling streams and sandstone formations, the group discovered that the creek is in "fair" condition.
That means there is evidence of pollutants and a need for further monitoring and some restoration, said Ted Smith, the Trumbull County Health Department official who created the water monitoring program.
"There's so much pollution taking place. We need to be able to get to the source of it," Smith said.