Commentary: Seeing Blue Herons Above Our Valley

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – My friend Bill had asked me if I would be interested in a ride down the Mahoning River since we have been following the recent dam removals and growing interest in reclaiming the river. We boarded in Youngstown at the B&O Station near downtown. Three hours later, we reached our destination. It was a recently built landing in Struthers.

Our guide and captain was Mario, a graduate of Youngstown State University, living and working in the area. With a love of the outdoors, water and fishing, he began taking fishing excursions down the river some time ago. He offers guided tours, with the availability of fishing along the way.

Immediately, as we pulled away from shore, he began to share how proud he is of his time at YSU.  He mentioned, also, how much he appreciated the stories from his family and friends about life in the Mahoning Valley in the heyday of the steel industry.

Summertime and the rowing is easy down the Mahoning River, as our columnist learned one beautiful day in August. 

As we made our way down the river, he commented that blue herons often take to the air, fly ahead of him, and then land. As he approaches their landing site, they take to the sky again and land ahead. It’s not unusual that this happens several times, he said, as if they’re leading him on. Their graceful presence on a beautiful weekday morning added much to our excursion. The rising sun was the icing on the cake.

Included in his informational interjections, sadly, were periodic comments about the unsightly and almost ghastly collection of pockets of debris. On his craft was a large fishing net and a burlap sack that had held potatoes. He invited us on the trip to help him scoop up the pockets of litter and place them in the sack for proper disposal.

All three of us lamented the need for such efforts and we were also grateful that the vast majority of the riverbanks were free of litter. As Mario told us, “If we all just did our part, there would be no need for such litter pickup.”

 As we made our way, our skipper pointed to a few remaining aged and rusting hulks of bygone days and some pylons that once supported train bridges. Recent dam removal (with more to come next year) has benefited kayakers, canoe enthusiasts, photographers, bird watchers and those who enjoy sport fishing on the Mahoning.

Captain Mario’s knowledge of the history of the river, the rich past of the Mahoning Valley and the many amenities of our communities was vast. He told how they enhance the quality of life. He was extremely optimistic and energizing.

All three of us, in our own thoughts during the three-hour voyage, realized that the river brought us all here. Over the years, communities along its banks grew and became great places to live.

For those with innovative and progressive plans of action, the river can become a part of our future identity and footprint.

Two summers ago, the Eastgate Council of Governments produced a five-minute video entitled, “The Mahoning River Corridor Restoration.” Eastgate is a voluntary association of local governments in northeastern Ohio. It comprises cities, townships and villages in Ashtabula, Trumbull and Mahoning counties. The five-minute video is a wonderfully researched and creatively presented history of the area.

Immediately it draws one into the landscapes and personalities of the member communities – each distinctive – along the Mahoning River. The video also suggests that communities will benefit much from working together for common goals.

Our histories are important. Looking forward with new ideas and initiatives is the way forward in a world that benefits in many ways from cooperative regional approaches to challenges and growth.

When I finished my morning jaunt, I watched the Eastgate video again. Knowing that I had just been on the river that is a part of our future gave me pause, and then gratitude, for the many folks and groups and organizations that look beyond their boundaries and look forward to new expansive ways of living together.

As the blue herons continue to hover above the river, those of us in the valley below give this area purpose and meaning and are blessed with a river that runs through our lives.

Take the ride and enjoy! And thank you Mario and Bill.