Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part 3

You are NOT alone

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One of two bald eagles that watched me break camp.

There was no one else around at my Muskrat Bay campsite, but I was not alone. Lucy kept me company all evening and, when I crawled out of my tent in the morning, she was still there.

Lucy was a Canada goose. She appeared to have been injured and unable to fly. She swam around in front of my campsite, constantly positioning herself so she could keep an eye on me. It was sad to see goose couples come and go. Lucy watched them helplessly, perhaps longing for a life she’ll never have.

She wasn’t the only company I had. As I prepared breakfast and ate it, an osprey looked on from a tree across the bay. It flew off as I broke camp and, moments later, a bald eagle landed near where the osprey had been and stayed there until I slid my loaded canoe into the lake and paddled off. It was joined by a second eagle.

I began a day of exploring the lake north of the SR 430 bridge. Along the way, I saw a mallard, an egret and a plastic goose. I also rousted thousands of cormorants, which have become something of a plague on Charles Mill Lake.

There are suitable Islands for camping and a site — complete with a picnic table — on a peninsula at the southeast entrance to Big Turtle Bay. The downside is they’re situated between US 30 and SR 430 and the sound of traffic never stops.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon paddling along the shoreline on the northern end of the lake. Because of the highways, Eagle Point campground, a boat ramp and houses, it’s less appealing than the southern part of Charles Mill Lake.

In short, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there.

In Camp Harbor on the west side of the lake, I came upon what I hope wasn’t a familiar sight — a scuttled dredge. Years ago, while working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette, I wrote an article about the naming of a new dredge. It was dubbed “Sedimental Journey.” Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District had purchased the dredge. The plan was to dredge the channel under the SR 430 bridge, which separates the northern and southern parts of the lake, then take it to other MWCD lakes.

I can’t imagine it would have been scuttled without being used more.The average depth of Charles Mill Lake is only five feet. That’s down three feet from the original depth. The bottom of the lake is covered with a gooey layer of silt, the byproduct of irresponsible farming, logging and construction practices. I’d like to think that this was another dredge, one replaced by Sedimental Journey.

Ironically, as I explored the lake for three days in April, 50,000 gallons of drilling clay had been dumped in a wetland upstream — a byproduct of the Rover pipeline project. It might not reach the lake, but the harm to wildlife and the wetland is disheartening just the same.

Here are a few photos from the final day of my three-day canoe trip:


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Lucy, my constant companion.


A mallard duck doing some morning yoga, north of the SR 430 bridge.

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An egret looks for fish in the shallows along the eastern shoreline.

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A plastic goose lurks in a tree trunk near Sites Lake, a residential area on the north end of Charles Mill.


A scuttled dredge in Camp Harbor. Note the disintegrated oil boom around it.

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The cab of the dredge. I was concerned that the interior of the hull reeked of oil.

Click on the link below for a map of the lake:

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated


Previous posts on this trip:

Part One

Part Two












A few tips on how to deal with snake oil salesmen

Why is it that spinmeisters defending pernicious business practices insist on trotting out the argument that anyone who uses the product cannot criticize the process used to produce it? I heard a variation on this yesterday in which a man defending his right to allow fracking on his land implied that anyone who cooks with natural gas can’t criticize the practice.

Well, let’s say we find out the Ford Motor Company is making leather car seats out of the hides of Appalachian children. Are we not entitled to be outraged just because we happen to drive a Ford product?

There’s another argument industry hacks love to use and I’ll give you an example. On January 1, a couple of shills from an organization called Energy in Depth, a front group for the gas and oil industry,* dragged a bunch of goons into an informational session on fracking at a Bellville church. (I hear they recently showed up at a similar function in northeastern Ohio as well.)  This was an obvious attempt to disrupt and intimidate. One of the goons blurted out something to the effect that, “If you haven’t worked on an oil rig, you don’t know anything about fracking.”

Which is like saying that, unless you’re a proctologist, you don’t know an asshole when you see one.


Ohio $tate Park$ go ‘green’

Going camping in Ohio State Parks? With marcellus oil drilling rigs around, you won't need a lantern at night.

This is testimony against proposed legislation to facilitate hydraulic fracturing in Ohio’s state parks, forests and other public land. I plan to present it tonight before the Ohio House Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. This legislation is on a fast track and could even be voted on this week. I urge you to contact committee members now. I’ve attached a PDF with their contact info.

I grew up in inner city Cleveland in the late ’50s and early ’60s. We lived on West 40th Street, literally a stones-throw from Cleveland Electro Metals. At night, we could look out the kitchen window and see workers silhouetted in the orange glow of the huge furnace where they melted down sheet metal from old airplanes and buses.

It was a smelly, noisy and unhealthy place to grow up. But my father worked hard to make a better life for us. He made it a point to take two weeks off every summer and take us to East Harbor State Park.

I lived for those two weeks. I looked forward to camping, hiking through the woods and exploring the marshes and the lakeshore. The fresh air — the smell of grasses, flowers and trees — was delightfully foreign to me. Sound was a unique experience too. There was no constant rumble of machinery or jarring clang of metal dropping from overhead cranes. There was silence, with interludes of birds singing and frogs croaking. You could even hear insects buzzing.

I lived most of my adult life in the city, but I never lost that connection with nature. Even during difficult times in my life, I often returned to find solace at East Harbor State Park and later Mohican State Memorial Forest.

Fourteen years ago, I got the opportunity to move to the Mohican area. I jumped at it. I feel so lucky to live in a place that’s special not just to those who live there but to hundreds of thousands of other Ohioans who come here for recreation and to spend quality time with their families.

I’m nearly 60 years old. I’ve resigned myself to living out the rest of my life in the Mohican area, enjoying the parks, forests and rivers. In my worst nightmare, I never thought I’d find myself desperately struggling to save it from being industrialized virtually overnight.

Make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what this proposed legislation would do. Once that Pandora’s box is opened, there will be no closing it. Once the heavy equipment rolls in, the ground is opened up and toxic chemicals injected, it will never be the same. Some of it will start looking all-too-familiar — like the smelly, noisy, dangerous inner city world I grew up in.

Our state parks and forests would become fragmented, industrialized and lost forever to future generations.

Please don’t let that become your legacy.

I’m urging you to vote against this measure.  CommitteelistHouseandSenate

Scam letter alert

Here, in the form of two PDFs (because I couldn’t figure out how to make it one) is a “testimonial” a representative of Quebec Energy, a Dubai-based gas drilling company, gave a prospective lessor in Richland County over the weekend.

It’s indicative of the hard-sell tactics being employed by drillers.

Pay close attention to the last paragraph.



GASPLAND – Post-industrial tourism in Mohican Country

News item: The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill to facilitate oil and gas drilling on state lands.


Coming soon - our version of beachfront property

Nothing new here. This has been a perennial issue in Ohio and other states. Legislators, whose campaigns are bankrolled by oil and gas interests, love to trot this out when the stars align favorably. In other words, when the economy is tanking and energy prices are surging.

This is kind of like those remote backwater countries you read about where people become so destitute they have to sell their own children to survive. Except, in this case, the legislators want to sell your children.

Until now, cooler heads have prevailed when this issue has come up. Legislators beholden to gas and oil interests haven’t had the votes to push it through. After all, it’s kind of a tough sell when there are still a few conscientious legislators in the room whose idea of a day at the beach doesn’t involve frolicking along the shores of a festering gas well wastewater pit.

What’s different this time around is the ominous threat of bringing wholesale hydraulic fracturing to Ohio’s state forests and parks. In spite of what industry shills — including politicians and their bureaucrats on the county level — are telling us, this is dirty, noisy and dangerous business. Besides, it’s not nearly as lucrative for lessors as they would have you believe.

You’ll see the same high-pressure sales tactics used time after time. Industry representatives and their front men — including state and county bureaucrats and starry eyed landowners bent on making a quick buck — come in and repeat the mantra: “Gas drillers have been doing this for 60 years and there has not been one incident of water well contamination.”

Well, that’s a lie. Just ask our neighbors in Pennsylvania. They have plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, much of it too well-documented to dismiss as anecdotal or coincidental.

The truth is, this is not your daddy’s hydraulic fracturing. Today’s version is recently developed technology using higher pressure, horizontal boring covering great distances, consuming millions of gallons of water and spewing tons of hazardous substances into the air, land and water.

So far, Ohio media seem to have turned a blind eye to this. Few I’ve seen have questioned the drilling proponents’ “safe-as-milk” spiel. But then, Pennsylvania is a world away. And, in our neck of the woods, word travels slowly.

Here in Mohican Country, we’re getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our canoe livery industry. Like every other summer, people will flock here to enjoy the river, the scenery and our 5,000-acre Mohican Memorial State Forest.

If the gas and oil industry — and the politicians they own — get their way, we’ll have a lot more to offer vacationers in the future. Our forest, parks and countryside will be dotted with toxic wastewater lagoons, drilling pads covering 5-10 acres and turbines the size of Winnebagos. (The turbines are used for pressurizing gas lines.) Our roads will be choked with convoys of tractor-trailers servicing well-drilling and waste-removal operations. With all that noise and commotion going on 24/7, city dwellers visiting Mohican Country will feel right at home. And, because it takes millions of gallons of water to open up each well, the rivers and lakes around here will be so shallow that tourists won’t have to worry about their kids drowning. Not even if they stand on their heads.

Our counties and townships will be more than glad to underwrite the cost for wear and tear on the roads to accommodate the new “industriotourism.” And our local emergency service providers will be prepared to handle new challenges. (The gas and oil companies will try to buy their silence by donating a few thousand bucks here and there for a new ambulance or HazMat gear.)

Of course, we’ll need a catchy slogan consistent with our new image. How about: Mohican Country — Frack to Nature!

Baseline water quality testing – do it now

This is another post in the continuing saga of the “Gold Rush of 2011,” i.e. the mad dash by Mohican area landowners to sign away their mineral rights to natural gas speculators.

I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that attorneys speaking at a fracking informational session in Wooster on Wednesday night said that, if people are concerned about the potential for groundwater contamination, they should get their water tested now for chemicals and heavy metals.

This is for if and when extensive hydraulic fracturing in our area will poison our wells. Given Pennsylvania’s experience, for some, it will only be a question of when.

The attorneys stressed that testing needs to be done by a third-party lab. That includes gathering the samples, a very important point for legal reasons. As I recall, the price range is $60-$300.

That said, the experience elsewhere has been that, even when the cause and effect of groundwater contamination is obvious, the drilling companies deny the connection.

Even though the ju$ti¢e system would be stacked in favor of the companies, at least this will give you some evidence if it comes to litigation. Failing that, a typical scenario would be that the companies would truck in water for you.

Face it folks, life won’t be the same around here.

It’s your land and we’ll do what we want with it

fracking disasters

These frackers sure know how to throw a party. A recent well blow-out in Pa.

I learned a few interesting things about the business of hydraulic fracturing last night at an informational session at the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio.

This is not to be confused with the session Tuesday afternoon in Loudonville. That one was a dog and pony show put on by a group of Farm Bureau types bent on whipping landowners into a mineral rights selling frenzy. More on that some other time — perhaps when the thought of it no longer induces a projectile vomiting reflex.

The Wooster session was conducted by a couple of ag lawyers. Without promoting the leasing of mineral rights to frackers, they discussed the finer points of dealing with them.

Here are some of the more interesting points that came up:

• A landowner unwilling to lease land to hydraulic fracturing companies, can be forced into a leasing pool by the state if contiguous landowners sell out. The lawyers pointed out that this is uncommon in Ohio. However, given the political and economic climate, you can bet it will become routine.

• In Ashland County, there is at least one speculator getting people to sign what they think are letters of intent to lease. Turns out these are actual lease contracts.

• Unless landowners specifically demand it, lease contracts allow drillers to  build roads, drilling platforms that cover up to five acres, run pipelines or inject mass quantities of wastewater, petroleum and chemicals into the ground. Oops, forgot to mention that, unless landowners specifically negotiate it in the contract, these companies can also use the land for underground storage.

• When speculators first come in, they offer lower prices.

• The price range? $2 per acre to $2,000 or better.

• The pie-in-the-sky royalty figures they quote? Read the fine print. In some cases, that figure is the amount before they deduct their costs. Those costs include building the roads, rigs, laying pipe, disposal and cleanup. It also can depend on whether they actually find gas. Also, those terms are not per year; they’re over the life of the contract, generally five years.

• If the company goes bankrupt, the landowner can be stuck with a huge liability. A couple of posts ago, I hinted at this. There is a tendency among those who profit from destroying OUR natural resources to cut and run, going out of business and keeping the money they made with impunity. (It’s easy when you own politicians and judges — easier now that the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for unlimited campaign contributions from polluting and pillaging scumbags.) If there were to be a major drilling-related catastrophe, this would be an inevitable scenario.

• One of the drilling companies approaching people in our area is based in Saudi Arabia. So much for the argument for energy independence.

In the old days, we had a term for the sort of people we’re dealing with here. We called them carpetbaggers. Except these folks are peddling something far more pernicious than snake oil.