MOUNT VERNON — Ohio Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Glen Cobb touched on a number of subjects in his talk to the Mount Vernon Kiwanis Club at lunch Monday, but his main focus was on the economic impact of outdoor recreation and the problems faced at Grand Lake St. Marys.
Cobb was appointed deputy director in January and oversees the divisions of Forestry, Natural Areas and Preserves, Watercraft, Wildlife and Parks and Recreation. He had been with the Division of Parks and Recreation for 27 years.
He noted that the Division of Watercraft ranks ninth nationally in the number of boats registered and generates an estimated $3.5 billion in the economy. In the Division of Wildlife, sport fishermen inject $1.8 billion into the economy and sport hunters about $859 million. Ohio state parks, of which there are 75 in 60 counties, generate $1.1 billion in the economy.
Much of the park system, however, was built in the 1960s and has many needed or overdue repairs and improvements backed up. The administration, he said, is trying to find a way to fund these repairs.
He touched briefly on the subject that is growing in significance in eastern Ohio: The development of the natural gas potential of shale formations present in the area.
“The governor has tasked us with getting in front of the shale exploitation issue and the director is tasked with getting the regulatory structure in place,” Cobb said. He noted that technology is allowing us to drill deeper and even further horizontally.
The governor, he said, “Sees the potential but we must do it responsibly.”
The gas reserves may have the potential to help with the parks’ backlog of repairs but in the process “we must protect the gems that are our parks.”
On Grand Lake St. Marys, Cobb explained that the problem is that the lake suffers from an excess of phosphorus, brought in by the runoff of manure and fertilizer from agriculture in Mercer and Auglaize counties. Farming contributes $400 million to the economy of those counties.
Since about 23 people were sickened by the algae last year, the state is assigning importance to the resolution of the problem.
Grand Lake is Ohio’s largest inland lake (about 13,000 acres) but the watershed is so small it takes 18 days to exchange the water in the lake. While more permanent solutions are sought, the state is proceeding with the application of alum to the lake, to bind the phosphorus and thereby starve the blue-green algae that feeds on it, and the physical removal of rough fish (carp and shad) from the lake.
One aspect of the problem that may have an effect around the state is the establishment of standards for what levels of the toxins created by the algae are dangerous.
Last year, Cobb noted, the detection of the mere presence of the toxins was enough to trigger the posting of signs around lakes.
Cobb was only asked one question about his football days (he was a captain of the OSU football team in 1981-82) and that was about the pink locker room at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium.