MAHONING VALLEY Watershed tour combines bicycling and education

The fourth annual ride raised awareness of the need to preserve the Mill Creek watershed.
CANFIELD -- On most days, Boardman resident Valerie Burnett bicycles to work at Youngstown State University.
The Maag Library reference librarian and avid cyclist combined her passions for cycling and education Saturday by touring the Mill Creek watershed in Mahoning and Columbiana counties as a participant in the Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District's fourth annual Watershed Ride.
The roughly 30-mile round-trip stretched from Canfield to Fairfield Township in Columbiana County, about 15 miles each way.
"It's a wonderful way to see how the waterways are interconnected," Burnett said.
"A main goal of the ride is to make riders aware of the watershed and how water pollution will affect the area," said Deborah Solak, watershed coordinator for the SWCD.
A watershed is described as any land form surrounding a water source such as a river or lake, said SWCD volunteer Larrie Puraty. The land surrounding Mill Creek, he said, is a watershed.
Lessons learned
Puraty, of Lisbon, drove a van laden with safety supplies and spare parts behind the bikers to make sure they stayed safe.
"The experience made me aware of Mill Creek's origin and its impact," Puraty said.
More than 25 riders left Canfield's Camp Stambaugh around 9 a.m., returning between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. The group viewed several streams, such as Moff Run, Turkey Creek, Mill Creek and its many tributaries.
The tour's halfway point was the old Fairfield School building in Fairfield Township. Riders viewed the Mill Creek headwaters near the school building before heading back to Camp Stambaugh.
Solak said she had to coordinate the ride in conjunction with area emergency personnel such as police, fire and EMS units.
"We needed to notify police ahead of time so they could temporarily block off routes for the riders' safety," she said. Solak also said ham radio operators helped track the riders' progress.
This year's ride used the same path as the first 2002 tour. However, Solak said future rides might include new routes.
The event attracted individual riders as well as cycling groups such as Youngstown-based Outspokin' Wheelmen.
Outspokin' Wheelmen President Paula Kohler said the Wheelmen pitched in to help plan the route and organize the event.
Kohler, known as a "sweep," in cycling terms, bicycled behind the bulk of the riders and stayed alert to the riders' safety. Her bicycle also contained some replacement parts for emergency repairs.
"We wanted to make sure nobody got injured," Kohler said.
The 400-member organization helps local organizations if they plan any events involving cycling, such as safety rodeos.
"One of our group's goals is education on road sharing between automobiles and bicycles," Kohler said.
Other groups, such as Mill Creek Metro Parks, Youngstown State University and Alliance for Watershed Action and Riparian Easements also sponsored the ride.
Why it matters
AWARE member George Peya stressed the importance of maintaining wilderness in certain areas along the streams and waterways.
Peya, who volunteered to pin numbers on cyclists' backs, said undergrowth and wilderness acts as a buffer zone for pollutants.
"Keeping areas wild 100 feet on both sides of the river or stream acts as a filter for pollution runoff," he said. "It's a green corridor for wildlife to move through, improving water quality."
Peya said he felt the event raised awareness of water pollution on streams and rivers.
"We need to keep spreading the word about keeping these streams undeveloped."

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