New boss for Scenic Rivers program

During the first months in her job, Northwest Region Assistant Scenic Rivers Manager Christina Kuchle has been getting to know the Sandusky and Maumee rivers area and determining how she might best serve it.

“One thing I’m very passionate about is getting other people excited about nature,” Kuchle said. “That’s why when I saw the posting for this position I was really excited about it.”

She is employed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Watercraft to oversee the Scenic Rivers program in northwest Ohio.

Kuchle has been a researcher in college and in her first jobs. She said research is important and she enjoys it, but she really enjoys working with people.

“That’s one of the things I value doing the most,” she said.

One part of her job in which she will be working directly with the public is re-energizing the Stream Quality Monitoring program on the Sandusky and Maumee rivers.

Starting in the spring, she plans to conduct several free workshops to teach people about the process and training volunteers to collect SQM data.

“It’s a biological assessment of what is going on in one of our scenic rivers,” she said. The workshops teach people to find macroinvertebrates, or tiny creatures, that live under rocks in the river. Some organisms are pollution tolerant and some are not. The types of organisms found can tell much about the quality of the water in that section of the river.

“I just really enjoy seeing the people, and especially the kids,” she said. “I can teach them there are things in there that are alive and worth protecting.

“In my job I feel like that’s one of the most special things I can do,” she said, ” work with young, creative, intelligent minds.”

Kuchle provides technical assistance on various development projects that impact the Sandusky and Maumee rivers.

“We’re more than happy to provide technical support for problems,” she said. For example, if someone has a question about how to repair an eroding stream bank, she’s the person to call.

She can sometimes find grant money for projects.

She also works with the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition in its quest to improve river quality, and she meets with township and county officials to make them aware of river issues.

“Overall, I think for the Maumee and Sandusky rivers, a priority is reducing the amount of dissolved reactive phosphorous,” she said. “We’re also trying to reduce sedimentation. A lot of progress has been made, but it’s still a significant pollutant.”

When a company or another government entity undertakes a publicly-funded project within 1,000 feet of a designated scenic river, the Scenic Rivers program is part of the loop.

“I comment in the planning phase,” Kuchle said. “For example, for a river crossing I might ask them to limit the number of in-stream piers. We want to find a happy medium between development and river ecology. What can work for them and what can work for us.”

She’s looking forward to writing grants for several projects such as reducing the number of abandoned in-stream structures in the rivers to reduce the number of log jams.

In addition, Kuchle said she wants to be visible to conservation groups such as Pheasants Forever, Izaak Walton and Sandusky River Coon Hunters. And she asks people who use the river for recreation to keep an eye out for problems such as erosion and areas where people are dumping trash.

“If they see something that’s amiss, it’s really helpful if they give me a call,” she said. “There are over eight different counties so it’s a lot of ground to cover.

Before she was hired in January for the permanent job with ODNR, Kuchle worked on a grant with Indiana University and as a contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Cincinnati.

“I moved six times in between graduation and finding my permanent job,” she said. “I’m just happy to go to work because I’m going to do something meaningful.”

Kuchle grew up in northern Kentucky in the Cincinnati metropolitan area.

She graduated in spring 2011 from the University of Kentucky-Lexington with dual bachelor’s degrees in forestry and resources conservation management.

“I finished both degrees in four years in addition to a Gaines Humanities Fellowship and Chellgrin Fellowship,” she said.

The Chellgrin fellowship was a three-year research project on bush honeysuckle “to explore its nutrient cycling dynamics.”

“I won a couple grants doing that,” she said.

Through the Gaines fellowship she helped to develop a community garden project for low-income families.

Through another grant, Kuchle wrote an art history thesis on Yosemite National Park, and “how the artwork of that area has changed from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s.”

“That was an interesting experience because it made me realize how important our natural resources are to our national identity,” she said. Although Americans often take for granted this country’s beautiful landscapes and scenery, she said people from Europe travel just to see those open spaces.

Since she moved to Ohio, Kuchle said she enjoys shooting trap, equine sports, history, gardening and exploring when she isn’t working.

“In Kentucky I grew up hunting, shooting and horseback riding,” she said. “I’m glad I got to move to northwest Ohio because all of my hobbies are here.

“Every weekend I try to go and see a new place,” she said.