Mahoning Riverfest reveals hidden life of river

By Sean Barron


If you were asked to define a stonecat madtom or a darter, you might be tempted to think they’re names of esoteric musical groups or something from a science-fiction movie.

Greg Orr, however, would quickly point out that you’d be wrong on both counts.

“I’m here to show folks what lies beneath the water,” Orr, an environmental scientist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said about the two types of fish that live in the Mahoning River.

Stonecat madtoms, a type of catfish, along with darters, blue gills, green sawfish and white suckers, are among the species of fish that inhabit the river, which was the centerpiece of Saturday’s first Mahoning Riverfest program outside the B&O Station Banquet Hall at 530 Mahoning Ave., downtown.

Hosting the five-hour gathering was Friends of the Mahoning River, an organization formed last April that’s dedicated to improving the quality of the river through education, restoration and recreation, according to its mission statement.

The event also was in conjunction with Artists of the Rust Belt’s Artober Show & Sale, which continues from noon to 5 p.m. today at the B&O.

Orr was one of an estimated 13 vendors who took part in the program, which featured exhibits, presentations and displays focused on environmental conservation and river preservation.

Orr’s specimen included about 20 types of salamanders, some of which are in area watersheds and tributaries but all of which can be found throughout Ohio. He also had numerous fish and invertebrates.

Generally, the greater the diversity and abundance of animal species, the better the quality of river and stream water, he noted.

For example, small brown plates (often called “bug hotels”) are placed in water for about six weeks, during which time they are colonized. The type and amount of insect species that result tells a lot about water quality, Orr explained.

The Ohio EPA combines biology and chemistry to arrive at such findings, he said.

“Typically, if you have bad chemistry, you’ll have bad biology,” he said.

Healthful biology also was on the mind of Sarah Perrine, a Youngstown State University environmental-studies major and president of the Youngstown Environmental Sustainability Society, a 15-member YSU student organization that promotes sound environmental practices on campus, at home and in the community.

Perrine had on her display table a small net used to churn sediment from a river or stream and collect macro invertebrates to determine the health and vitality of water samples.

Stonefly and other types of larva usually indicate good water quality; conversely, an abundance of aquatic worms and black flies points to poor quality, noted Felicia Armstrong, a YSU associate professor of geology and environmental sciences.

Assisting Perrine and Armstrong was Leah Baker, also a YSU environmental-studies major.

Many attendees interested in wildlife above the surface were drawn to Heidi Hall’s table.

Hall, a naturalist with Mill Creek MetroParks’ Ford Nature Center, had for educational purposes pelts of a wolf, river otter, bobcat, deer, beaver, weasel and several other animals.

“A lot of beavers are in Lake Newport,” she said. “They swim up to boats.”

Few area residents see wolves because many migrated north as their habitat diminished, she explained.

Also, weasels’ tails are brown during the summer but turn white by winter to blend in with snow and be protected from predators, Hall said.

Some attendees spoke with Phillip Boran, a YSU chemistry major who had a three-dimensional landscape model that showed how motor oil, road salt, pesticides and other pollutants affect water run-off.

The Riverfest also featured bird-watching, entertainment from the band Full Moon Canoe, and face-painting and other activities for children.

For more information on Friends of the Mahoning River, visit

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