Paying it forward: A passion for nature

Retiring after 35 years as a teacher in the auto/welding department for what is now Washington State Community College, John Lee discovered volunteering with the local Friends of the Lower Muskingum River group was a perfect outlet for his passion to preserve green space in this area.

Question: Where did your concern for the environment begin?

Answer: When I was young my family had a farm outside of Clarksburg, W.Va. that we would visit nearly every weekend. My dad used to open it up to people for retreats and other gatherings, and my faithful dog, Tarzan, and I would hike those hills together. That’s where I grew to respect the earth and all of its inhabitants. And others have told me they also became passionate about the environment at an early age.

Q: When did you join Friends of the Lower Muskingum?

A: About six years ago-I was working at a recycling site on Greene Street with Marilyn Ortt (longtime member of Friends of the Lower Muskingum), and she discovered I was passionate about land preservation, so I joined the group.

Q: A big part of the FLMR’s mission is to preserve and protect natural areas of land in the local area?

A: Yes. And as board members we’ve been able to help obtain grant monies from the Ohio Public Works Commission to purchase properties like the Kris-Mar woods, Kroger wetlands, the 20-acre Dana Island preserve in Waterford, and a 33-acre tract along Devols Run. We’ve even helped purchase a small 0.8 acre spot in Reno to try and reintroduce the eastern spadefoot toad into this area.

But I’m probably most proud of the 75 acres along the Little Muskingum River that is being used as a biological field station by Marietta College.

Q: Friends of the Lower Muskingum currently oversees about 250 acres on nine pieces of property in Washington County. Why is preservation of that land important?

A: Preserving land helps improve our water quality. We can’t just pave over everything-a balance has to be maintained, and we need to keep green spaces for future generations to enjoy.

Q: Some people say too much protection of the environment is counterproductive to the nation’s economy.

A: We don’t want to stand in the way of progress. In fact, we work with corporations like American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and others who have helped plant trees and preserve green areas. We can’t be at odds with these companies-cooperation is the key.

Q: As a volunteer with FLMR, what other work do you do?

A: We’ve done a lot of invasive species removal-cutting hundreds of ailanthus trees, also known as “trees of heaven,” at the Dana Island preserve. They resemble sumac trees, but sometimes grow a foot in diameter and block sunlight from reaching native plants. But I think we’re finally gaining some control over the ailanthus situation at Dana Island.

Q: Do Friends of the Lower Muskingum need more volunteers?

A: We’re always looking for good volunteers in both the stream and water quality and land preservation areas.