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Fourteen Ohioans Presented With ODNR’s Top Conservation Honors

Ohioans who have dedicated their lives to the conservation and preservation of Ohio’s natural resources received top honors Wednesday from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Columbus, OH — Ohioans who have dedicated their lives to the conservation and preservation of Ohio’s natural resources received top honors Wednesday from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Family, friends, and fairgoers watched as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, ODNR Director Mary Mertz, and other ODNR officials inducted seven people into the Ohio Natural Resources Hall of Fame and awarded seven others with ODNR’s Cardinal Award.

“This is an outstanding group of dedicated Ohioans who have truly made conservation their life mission,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. “We are proud to recognize them with these high honors, as we hope their passion and major achievements will inspire future generations to help the state’s natural wonders soar to new heights.”

The Ohio Natural Resources Hall of Fame has a long legacy in the state of Ohio. The award was created in 1966 to celebrate individuals who have made significant contributions to protecting Ohio’s natural resources. With today’s inductions, the number of people presented with this honor is 193.

Denis Case
Denis Case was employed by ODNR as Chief of the Division of Research from 1973 to 1975. In 1975, he recommended to the Director of ODNR that his division and position be eliminated, and that each division should conduct their own research.

From 1975 to his retirement in 1996, he was a wildlife biologist with ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, responsible for developing and prioritizing terrestrial endangered species and biodiversity programs. Case was the driving force behind Ohio’s first bald eagle recovery program as well as recovery of the river otter, peregrine falcon, and a host of other endangered species.

This lifelong steward was responsible for gathering bald eagle eggs from outside of Ohio, and placing them in bald eagle nests along Lake Erie. He did this at a time when the numbers of bald eagles in Ohio were at their lowest. He went to Louisiana on his own time and brought back river otters to be reintroduced into Ohio’s streams. His first couple of tries were not successful, but eventually he was able to reestablish a population.

Since his retirement, he and Rita, his wife, have worked with the Appalachian Ohio Alliance to protect land parcels, and since 2006 they’ve volunteered their time radiotracking timber rattlesnakes.

D’Arcy Patrick Egan
D’Arcy Patrick Egan began his journalism career as an editor and sportswriter in Coshocton, Medina County, and Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, Egan was the full-time outdoors editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 40 years, and full-time editor of The Beacon (Port Clinton) for the last five years of his career leading up to his retirement in 2023.Egan is an active and aggressive proponent of fishing, hunting and enjoying the outdoors and he uses his words and film to inspire others to protect the environment.

He focused on Lake Erie and northern Ohio woods and waters, including working with the Division of Wildlife, and environmental groups as the League of Ohio Sportsmen, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Ohio Sea Grant, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and dozens of sportsmen’s organizations.

Egan diligently worked to protect the waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries, both in his actions and in his black and white print. He spearheaded a successful movement to ban gill nets in Ohio waters, fighting invasive species such as Asian carp and promoting sound research to advance Ohio fisheries, especially Lake Erie walleye and the highly successful steelhead trout program. He extensively wrote about hunter safety, safe boating practices and, as a licensed Lake Erie fishing guide, introduced anglers to safe and ethical fishing.

Among Egan’s vast involvement in conservation and sportsmen’s groups, he was a board member of Shores & Islands Ohio, the foremost tourism organization in Ohio based in Ottawa and Erie counties. In 2008, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources presented Egan with the Cardinal Award.

Tom Kashmer
Tom Kashmer, who passed away in June, was a dedicated conservationist with more than 40 years of service in Ohio. He started banding birds in 1983 and founded the Green Creek Wildlife Society in 1984 – right around the time he part-owned and operated Portage Trail Canoe Livery and Broken Paddle Campground. His educational and research organization focused on bird education and conservation, something he also promoted as an Ohio History and World Geography teacher at Gibsonburg High School for 28 years.

Under Kashmer’s direction, Green Creek Wildlife Society members installed more than 1,000 bluebird boxes, leading to the banding of more than 16,000 eastern bluebirds and 26,000 tree swallows. Thanks to Kashmer, the eastern bluebird population has risen substantially in northwest Ohio – namely Sandusky, Seneca, and Ottawa counties. He’s also been critical in banding more than 20,000 purple martins in martin houses that were built by the society. In addition, his data collection from the migration banding station at Darby Marsh has contributed to a better understanding of bird migration patterns and habitat utilization.

Kashmer was also involved in small stream research, colonial wader banding, and graduate research programs on rails and shorebirds. After retirement from teaching and up until his passing, he led numerous bird, eagle, and kayak tours as a research coordinator for the Sandusky County Park District – always educating others about wildlife and inspiring them to take on conservation efforts of their own. Kashmer has mentored and inspired countless individuals to pursue careers in wildlife conservation and holds a prominent position in the hearts of Green Creek Wildlife Society members, colleagues, and students alike.

Having died in June 2023, ODNR is inducting Kashmer posthumously.

Paul E. Knoop, Jr.
Paul Knoop’s career spanned 35 years as education director at Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm. He was handpicked by Marie Aull, a Dayton-area philanthropist and founder of the nationally renowned Vandalia nature center in 1957. In 1995, Aullwood opened the Paul Knoop Prairie adjacent to the farm near Dayton International Airport. With its hundreds of native plant species, the park is a utopia of biodiversity and protects 120 acres of watershed for the Wiles Creek.

After retirement, Knoop and his wife Cathy moved to Hocking County and continue to be involved in nature education. They both teach natural history field classes for Ashland University and lead wildflower hikes at the Land Conservancy Arc of Appalachia. Knoop co-wrote “The Birds of Hocking County, Ohio”, published in 2016.

Knoop has earned many honors, including the George B. Fell Award, given by the Natural Areas Association to individuals who exhibit the highest qualities of the natural areas profession and who have made significant and sustained advancements in natural area identification, protection, stewardship, or research.

Paul is a founding member and the inaugural secretary of the Appalachia Ohio Alliance. Founded in 2001, the Alliance preserves and restores natural ecosystems, facilitates the protection of historical landmarks, and supports educational and outreach activities in Ohio’s Appalachia region.

Dr. Larry B. Mixon, Sr.
Larry Mixon, who passed away in March, discovered a love for Ohio’s natural resources at a young age. Mixon grew to be an avid outdoorsman, enjoying rabbit and wild turkey hunting, bow hunting for deer, and fishing.

In 2003, recognizing Mixon’s passion for the outdoors and his commitment to serving the public, Governor Bob Taft appointed him to the Ohio Wildlife Council. The Ohio Wildlife Council is an eight-member board that approves proposed rules and regulations by the ODNR Division of Wildlife.

Mixon was very involved in Wildlife Council proposals and presentations, taking all of the information into consideration and providing positive feedback to the Division of Wildlife on rule proposals. When asked about his passion for conservation and the Ohio Wildlife Council, Mixon wrote, “The spirit of nature and wildlife conservation have always been an important part of my life and as a member of the Ohio Wildlife Council, I am committed to conserving these priceless resources for future generations to enjoy.”

Mixon served in positions of increasing responsibility and authority in the U.S. Army. He held positions as Interviewing officer, Executive officer, and Company commander. Later, he held many roles as an administrator for Columbus Public Schools, serving as superintendent from 1993 to 1997.

Having died in March 2023, ODNR is inducting Mixon posthumously.

Eric Partee
Eric Partee led the Little Miami Conservancy for 40 years and played a big role in saving a national treasure right here in Ohio.

Founded in 1967, the Little Miami Conservancy has been devoted to the restoration and protection of the Little Miami State and National Scenic River. Forty years of Partee’s dedication as executive director led to a laundry list of improvements, including the protection of 2,000 acres of land along the river and its tributaries, hundreds of river sweeps involving thousands of volunteers to clean up 100s of tons of river debris, implementation of water quality programs to monitor the overall health of the river and the planting of over 50,000 native trees and over 100 acres of prairies to preserve the water and floodplain habitat.

Post-retirement, Partee continues to be a valuable advisor for the welfare of the river and helps monitor wildlife and water quality. Partee’s strong relationships with landowners, local and state government, and other agencies, still prove useful to further the mission of the Little Miami Conservancy.

Carolyn Watkins
Carolyn Watkins has been an exceptional advocate for environmental and conservation-focused education for more than 30 years. As chief of the Office of Environmental Education at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency since 1998, Watkins has played a pivotal role in securing millions of dollars in grants for conservation efforts and has personally taught various curricula to thousands of students and educators.

Watkins has used her education and experience to give back through countless hours on the job, out in the field, and as part of numerous organizations.

Along with her contribution to Project WET, Project WILD, and many other nature-based learning programs, she’s worked alongside ODNR as a facilitator for Project Learning Tree. Project Learning Tree is the Division of Forestry’s environmental education standard, teaching children how to think through the lens of trees and forests.

Watkin’s involvement in many organizations and professional associations — including the Environmental Education Council of Ohio, North American Association for Environmental Education, Ohio Energy Project, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Conservancy – has left a lasting impact and inspired countless individuals to take up the cause. Watkins is also the recipient of the Division of Forestry’s John Hug Award for outstanding leadership in environmental education, the Environmental Education Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award for environmental education in Ohio, and many other awards.

The Cardinal Award

In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, ODNR also presented the Cardinal Award to seven Ohioans. The Cardinal Award, created in 1971, honors individuals and organizations that demonstrate exceptional awareness and concern for ideals reflected in the department’s mission statement: To ensure a balance tween the wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all.

Cardinal Award recipients have included outdoor writers, educators, farmers, biologists, naturalists, businesses, sporting organizations, and volunteers across the state of Ohio.

Dave Apsley
Dave Apsley founded A DAY IN THE WOODS, a program designed to educate and promote good stewardship and active management for all forestland in Ohio. Twice a month from May through November, he can be found teaching private woodland owners everything from identifying trees to understanding local wildlife. In June 2023, A DAY IN THE WOODS celebrated its 100th educational event at Vinton Furnace State Forest, right where it started in April 2012.

Currently a natural resources specialist at the Ohio State University Extension, Apsley has been an advocate and educator for forest management in Ohio for over twenty years. Throughout his career, He has always ensured that current science is delivered to landowners and professionals in a practical way. In addition to A DAY in the WOODS, Apsley also serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Collaborative Oak Management Initiative, working to maintain oak-dominated forests, improve interagency coordination, and provide outreach to private woodland owners about oak management.

Additionally, he helped to develop Call Before You Cut Ohio, a public program that connects landowners with resources and professionals to manage their woodlands, and he has been a longstanding resource advisor to the Southern Ohio Forestry Association, the largest regional forest landowner group in the state.

Kristen Beck
Kristen Beck has been rehabilitating our native wildlife since the early 1980s. In 2013, she established North Canton’s Clover Field Wildlife Center. Beck operates this center herself and does not have any staff to assist her. She has been instrumental in conservation efforts around the state by rehabilitating species of concern such as the gray fox and four different species of bats. In 2022, her donation-based rehab center admitted almost 900 injured, orphaned, or ill animals.

Beck has been an outstanding member of the Ohio Wildlife Rehabilitator Association board for 13 years. OWRA is a partner with ODNR’s Division of Wildlife to help establish minimum standards and best practices for wildlife rehabilitation in our state.

Beck has been a critical component in educating thousands of Ohioans about wildlife and mitigating human-wildlife conflicts to help protect our natural resources. She is an avid educator as a professor at Malone University, whose mission is to teach others about our native wildlife and ways to protect our environment for future generations.

Burr Oak Alive!
More than a decade ago, Burr Oak Lodge & Conference Center was slated to be demolished and Burr Oak Alive! was founded by locals determined to save it. They rallied enough support to encourage ODNR leadership to shift gears, and route the funds intended for demolition to renovation, instead.

The friends group for Burr Oak is an invaluable asset to the visitor experience at the park, proven by the incredible work they’ve continued to do ever since the lodge was saved. Just a couple weeks ago, Burr Oak Alive! and ODNR cut the ribbon on the “Lodge to Lake Trail” — a concrete trail behind the lodge. From assisting with naturalist programs, sponsoring events such as the Halloween Spooktacular and Boat Flotilla, organizing tree plantings, and manning aide and water stations during long trail hikes and runs, this organization really does it all.

Lola Lewis
Lola Lewis was part of ODNR’s Division of Forestry’s Regional Urban Foresters team for 28 years, representing 13 counties in East Central Ohio.Her job focused on helping elected officials, staff, and volunteers better understand the importance of trees in their communities.

Lewis hosted annual urban forestry conferences, pruning workshops, and led tree commission meetings. She also took the lead when the emerald ash borer was first found in Ohio. Lewis was a member of the Ohio Urban Forest Strike Team, designed to work with FEMA and assist communities after a storm event.

After retirement, Lewis now advises the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation’s TreeCorp program, helping plant and maintain healthy trees in the city of Youngstown. She was recently recognized as a True Professional Arborist by the International Society of Arboriculture “which recognizes members and certified professionals who are role models to their peers and positively represent the profession to the public.”

Brenda Metcalf
As the Environmental Education Council of Ohio’s Executive Director for the past 20 years, Brenda Metcalf has never stopped moving environmental education in Ohio forward. Metcalf has developed quality relationships with the Ohio EPA through their Partnership Grant that supports the Environmental Careers Program.

This program reaches thousands of Ohio students with career messages and resources, connects them with professionals in the environmental fields, and provides materials to support exploration of those potential career paths. In addition, Metcalf’s partnership with the Ohio Department of Education helped foster the Ohio Environmental Literacy Plan in 2012- one of the first in the country. This plan outlines all the key benchmarks that Ohio students and adults should achieve to become educated, connected stewards of Ohio’s environment.

Finally, Metcalf has fostered a long-term positive relationship with ODNR through her constant support of Project WILD, Project Learning Tree, and other initiatives. She has a long partnership with the Ohio Division of Wildlife through a grant to support high school research on wildlife and their habitats, support of the Ohio Student Wildlife Research Symposium, through the EECO regional director networks that regularly host Project WILD workshops, and the promotion of our resources and materials through her outreach efforts into classrooms and conference displays.

Preservation Parks of Delaware County
Preservation Parks of Delaware County has pursued a program of vigorously acquiring lands to expand park space in Ohio’s fastest-growing county, and they are committed to protection of natural habitats, conservation of natural resources, restoration of native landscapes, watershed protection, and helping residents connect with the landscape and its natural history.The park system has had an incredible impact on the community, hosting daily seasonal programming for all ages, maintaining 11 local parks and a section of the 326-mile Ohio to Erie Trail, and promoting sustainable lifestyles and activities.

For several years, the Ohio Geological Survey has collaborated with Preservation Parks in the expansion of Shale Hollow Park, ensuring that its significant geological features are preserved and explained to the public. With Preservation Parks’ cooperation, Geological Survey has produced field guides and other educational materials that help in ODNR’s mission.

Senator Tim Schaffer
Senator Schaffer, a three-term Ohio Senator currently serving Fairfield, Licking and parts of Perry County, has a notable track record of involvement in issues related to natural resources, conservation, and agriculture. Serving as chairman of the Senate’s standing committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, he has been a key player in developing and implementing policies that ensure the responsible use and preservation of Ohio’s rich natural resources and the safeguarding of our air and water quality.

During this recently passed Biennial Operating Budget, Senator Schaffer was a champion for securing critical funding for the Department of Natural Resources. With his leadership, he was able to successfully help restore $37 million to the department’s operating budget.

Senator Schaffer also played a crucial role during the work to repair the Buckeye Lake Dam. While serving in the Ohio House, Schaffer acted as a key liaison to address the needs of his constituents while also relaying the facts of the project to the people of his district.

Not only does he fight for Ohio’s natural resources, Senator Schaffer also enjoys Ohio’s natural resources. Of course, there’s parks like Buckeye Lake. But Senator Schaffer likes to visit other state parks including Hocking Hills where he’s been known to go out on a hike or two over the year. He’s even braved the cold for some of our special winter hikes.

ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.

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