During my lifetime I have been blessed with many opportunities to experience nature and our natural world. I have been to National Parks from Maine to California, talked to God in a grove of Redwoods, touched sequoias, climbed to 14,000 feet in the Rockies to sooth my feet in a cold alpine lake, hiked part of the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah and Smokey Mountains, walked on a glacier, and much more. But every time I see the bumper sticker “Stuck in Ohio” my blood boils. There is no other place on earth I would want to call home. This sentiment was reinforced when I drove out and back to Silver Creek Preserve in Idaho.  (See 9/18/15 Nearby Nature article) It was a wonderful trip with lots of first time experiences, but I was so glad to come back to northeast Ohio, for many reasons.

First let me put some things into perspective. The population of Idaho and Wyoming is 1.6 million and 580,000 respectively. Compare that to the population of Columbus which is 822,000! The population of just Northeast Ohio is 4.3 million! I actually drove through towns in Wyoming with a posted population in the single digits. One sign was hysterical, the posted population was 10 but it had an X through it and a 9 written next to it. My guess somebody died. In many areas the closest Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot is an hour or more away. Not to mention if you need medical attention, you could be in for a long ride.  Forget running to the corner store for a gallon of milk. The corner store might be 25 miles away. Add to the fact that there are no trees to speak of unless you go up into the mountains, water is worth more than gold, and then there is the dust. I think I brought home 10 pounds of dust in the back of my truck. Now you might begin to appreciate what we have here in Ohio. However, they do have the “Big Sky”, mountain vistas, alpine lakes, the sagebrush sea, hot springs, the sand hills of Nebraska, and did I say mountains vistas? Not to mention moose, elk, buffalo, pronghorn antelope, dull sheep, and birds we never see east of the Mississippi river.

Living in northeast Ohio, we can’t really appreciate the vastness of our country. The population density based on people per square mile for Northeast Ohio is 508 people/square mile. The population density for the entire state of Wyoming is 6 people/square mile. As I drove home through Wyoming, I drove for 100 miles and did not see a house, person, or any other sign of civilization. What I did see was miles of sagebrush, rabbit grass, cows, pronghorns, and rattlesnakes. Then came the sand hills of Nebraska. One thing surprised me was the fact that Nebraska has 24 people/square mile. I thought it was more densely populated; however, I could understand that after driving through the sand hills. Over 200 miles of nothing but rolling grassland. Remember the scene in “Dances with Wolves” when they find the buffalo? I expected to see Kevin Costner and the Indians riding across the grasslands shooting buffalo.

However, the biggest resource in Northeast Ohio which we don’t appreciate and take for granted is water! Yes, water. How many times have we complained about the cloudy or rainy days we “suffer” through in Northeast Ohio?  198 times to be exact according to the weather statistics. (that is the number of cloudy days in Cleveland on average) Well, we should be thankful to say the least.  Again, let’s put things into perspective. Just in Northeast Ohio alone we have Berlin, West Branch, La Due, Mosquito, Lake Milton and several more inland reservoirs, not to mention Lake Erie. Millions maybe billions of gallons of fresh water. More water than we could use in a lifetime. (well unless we continue to pollute it but that is another story) In Idaho, the Magic City reservoir which is just a little bigger than Berlin, is at 4% capacity. Imagine Berlin Reservoir with 96% of the water gone! And this is the case for many of the reservoirs in the west. The average rainfall for NEO is approximately 39 inches per year. It is approximately 12 inches for Idaho and 14 inches for Wyoming. Remember back to your biology class, and the importance of water. Nothing grows and humans can’t survive without water.

However, there is a curious phenomenon occurring with this lack of water. What is so amazing is that Idaho is the largest producer or barley and potatoes in the United states. Everything is irrigated. From rolling lines to pivot lines, life comes from a pump and pipe. Coors, Budweiser, and Miller contract almost all the barley produced in Idaho for beer. Not to mention the amount of alfalfa hay produced. Idaho is second to California in the amount of alfalfa hay produced in the United States.  The amount of water required for these crops is staggering.  As a result, all the water is under judicial or legislative control. And it is diminishing at a rapid pace. I was told a 1000-acre ranch sold for 20 million dollars, 3 million for the land and 17 million for the water rights. Fact or fiction, water is the key to the economy and a way of life. Without it, you can only grow sagebrush and rabbit grass. One can only wonder what will happen when the water runs out and given the rate of consumption, there is no question it will. What will happen to the economy, the people, and a way of life. We will definitely feel the effects at the grocery store with high milk and meat prices.  It is sad and scary to say the least.

As we complain about the number of cloudy days, the humidity, snow, and on and on…. just remember we don’t have to worry about forest fires, the smoke from the fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, (unless they keep drilling injection wells) unrelenting drought, tornadoes, (once in a great while), or massive flooding. Appreciate what we have, celebrate where we live, and count our blessings…. and be glad we are just “Stuck in Ohio”. A great place to call home!