Ortt’s love of local rivers evident in her work

This is the second of a three part tribute to Marilyn Ortt, one of our region’s most outstanding naturalists, who recently past away. The tribute is a modest effort to summarize her contributions to Marietta and the surrounding region.

Marilyn had great love of our local waterways, their riparian spaces and watersheds. Although a city Riverbank Conservation Program was developed in 1987, she found it necessary to continuously promote coherent management and protection of Marietta’s riverbanks. Marilyn recognized the importance of trees to riverbank stability and encouraged protection wherever possible of natural a riparian habitat. Her concerns were prescient, evidenced by riverbank erosion and occasional collapse along the Muskingum, some requiring significant City investment to stabilize.

In 2004, Marilyn helped the city develop and adopt the Gilman Street Area Community Transportation Corridor Plan for riverbank protection. And again in 2010, Marilyn served on a City ad hoc Riverbank Task Force that addressed riverbank maintenance issues.

Marilyn served on the Board of Friends of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, an independent, non-profit organization that encourages participation in and support of the refuge, and she was recognized by the organization for Outstanding Volunteer Service in 2012.

Marilyn had particular concerns for the Muskingum River, and was a cofounder in 2001 and later President of Friends of Lower Muskingum River. FLMR is a nonprofit watershed protection and Land Trust organization with a mission to restore, protect and promote the natural, historic, recreational and socioeconomic resources of the lower Muskingum River. These goals have been pursued with educational programs, cleanup campaigns, water quality studies, and submission in 2014 of a Watershed Action Plan for maintaining and improving the health of the lower Muskingum watershed.

As nonprofit Land Trust organization, FLMR works to set aside protected natural areas through creation of land conservation easements. A conservation easement allows a landowner to place permanent restrictions on future uses of the land, such as to protect its natural resources. Through Marilyn’s efforts and the generosity of land owners, FLMR helped establish conservation easements for numerous tracts of land, including Dana Island Preserve, Luke Chute Conservation Area, Fairfield Tract, Devol Run Preserve, and Marietta College’s Barbara A. Beiser Field Station.

FLMR acquired in 2001 and then passed to the City of Marietta the easement for the Kroger Wetland. Originally 15 acres and expanded in 2007 to 21 acres, the Kroger Wetland was always a special place for Marilyn. She worked to establish trails, parking spaces and educational resources on the site. The close proximity made this wetland an educational watershed and opportunity for volunteer projects – bridges erected, trails cleared, trees planted, and bird blinds built.

Development of the Kroger Wetland was just one of Marilyn’s efforts toward greenspace protection in the City. She also helped to preserve Kris-Mar Woods, through which runs a leg of the North Country Trail system.

Over the years she worked with numerous citizens’ groups and city committees, such as the Mayor’s Alternate Transportation Advisory Committee, and helped to promote land protection within Marietta through development of Land Development and Parking Lot Green Space ordinances.

Always ahead of the curve, Marilyn vigorously promoted recycling in Marietta. Long before curbside recycling was part of the city trash hauling contract (a service even now unavailable in the county), Marietta area residents could drop off recyclables at Marietta Area Recycling Center.

The recycling center was established in 1976 and is the oldest community drop-off volunteer recycling center in the state. Always well-supported by area residents, the recycling center yields high-quality sorted materials. In recent years approximately 800 tons of recyclables have been collected annually, exceeding the recycling of comingled materials at Solid Waste Management District trailers. The Center received the ODNR Recycle Ohio! Volunteer Recycling Award, in April 2002, and the Natural Environment Heritage Award from Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area in 2004.

The Household Hazardous Waste Day was one of Marilyn’s most widely recognized accomplishments. Through her remarkable powers of persuasion, the chemical industry’s Responsible Care Group of Washington County agreed to fund an annual hazardous waste pickup day, beginning in 1991. Dale Loudermilk and later Mark Potochnic from Solvay organized and supervised the on-site collection, which, with Marilyn’s inspiration, expanded to include tires, car batteries and fluorescent bulbs.

In 1995 a Paint Swap Day was added to give participants the opportunity to not only dispose of old paints, but also acquire paints or stains no longer needed by other people. This was recycling at its best.

For 20 years, 1991 – 2010 Marilyn assured that everyone knew that the collection days were coming with posters, fliers, bill-boards, newspaper ads and articles. And county residents participated enthusiastically; meticulously collected data showed on average over 1000 households participated annually. Records show the HHWD recovered tons of solid waste and tens of thousands of gallons of liquids. Likewise, thousands of gallons of paint were recycled by participants on Paint Swap Day.

Yet, I wonder for how many participants the most memorable part of the HHWD was being greeted every year at the entranceway by Marilyn to be offered fliers, a survey, and mercury-free thermometer.

Part Three of this tribute in next week’s column will describe Marilyn’s numerous contributions to local educational programs.