BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Despite the heat, despite the rain, six local teenagers under the supervision of an Indiana University undergrad have been working to improve water quality in the Ohio River by reducing erosion on trails in the Hoosier National Forest. Their three-week project concluded Friday.
Grants to the Ohio River Foundation from Duke Energy-Indiana, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded paid internships throughout the river’s watershed.
The local youth conservation team – all young women – wielded shovels and rakes to install water bars along trails and stabilized stream crossings near Hardin Ridge and on the Hickory Ridge Trail system in the Charles Deam Wilderness south of Lake Monroe. The trails are popular with hikers, mountain bikers and horse-riders. Frequent horse use can be especially rough on woodland paths along steep terrain. It’s a dirty job that involves digging trenches and slinging gravel for the purpose of keeping soil on the trail and out of the stream, The Herald-Times reported.
They also worked on the Pate Hollow Trail near Paynetown and installed a bee garden.
Dave Morris, recreation technician at the Hoosier National Forest, picked the projects for the crew, understanding that their assignment was to be related to water quality.
“Any time horses cross a stream, it really stirs up sediment,” Morris said. He said the crew placed about 100 tons of gravel – about five truck loads – to “harden” stream crossings.
“The greatest pollution in Ohio River is sediment,” said Rich Cogen, executive director of the Ohio River Foundation. “If we reduce the sediment loading in the streams and tributaries, we will reduce pollution in the river.”
Horses, hikers and mountain-bikers smash soil-holding plants, and when a heavily used trail becomes muddy, they often wear a new sidepath to avoid the muck, enlarging the problem. When they cross a stream, muddy hoofs and hiking boots carry the soil into the water, adding to the sediment load of a tributary of the Ohio River.
The crew is working to change the topography of the well-used trails to keep the soil in place. Morris said he’s had the gravel stockpiled for several years, but didn’t have the manpower to put it on the trails – until the Ohio River Foundation offered the work crew at no charge to the national forest.
A youth conservation team worked in the Boone National Forest in June, and two others have water-quality-protection projects in Hamilton County, Ohio, and Campbell County, Ky.
“The impact is cumulative on all streams in the (Ohio River) watershed,” Cogen said. “The more we can improve the water quality and habitat upstream on tributaries and streams, the greater will be the impact on the river.”
Cogen said he is impressed with the local crew.
“This is a really smart crew. I knew that going in,” he said. “The biggest problem I’ve had is keeping up with them. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve worked crews off and on for years. You always get slackers. Not in this group.”
“I feel like I don’t need to do much supervising. They’re self-motivated,” said Xia Meng Howey, crew supervisor and a senior at IU. “They work well as a group, and talk about ideas, and how to best get things done. I really don’t even bother to tell them what to do, because they take it upon themselves.”
“The girls are all really outdoorsy and know about the environment, and have a deep interest in the work. … It’s nice to be working with people who have a real interest in what they’re doing,” she said.