Loco ’Yaks, which started as a recreational kayaking organization, has paddled its way into a champion of the Black River and the watershed’s restoration during the last five years.
Led by Stephanee Moore-Koscho, Loco ’Yaks is a small but mighty nonprofit that is now the facilitating organization for the Black River AOC (Area of Concern) Advisory Committee.
“We started taking a lot of people out kayaking and realized just how visibly dirty the river was, so we decided to get a little more involved,” Moore-Koscho says. “We then learned about the restoration projects and how this river had been an area of concern since the 1980s, and we wanted to help clean up the river.”
Since then, Loco ’Yaks has hosted annual Black River clean-ups and noted a marked change in the amount of debris found in the watershed.
“The river has made a huge improvement since we first started kayaking there,” Moore-Koscho adds.
With eight board members and only two part-time employees — Moore-Koscho and her husband, Rob Koscho — Loco ’Yaks coordinates public outreach and education as well as organizes meetings and complementary projects that support Black River restoration efforts, which are overseen by the Lorain County commissioners.
In October, the county received $550,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve the water quality and fund such projects as enhanced wetlands and stream restoration. The funds were made possible through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“Our job as the committee is to make sure that the river’s not an area of concern anymore, so we look at the progress of these projects and then relay them back to the EPA,” Moore-Koscho says.
Loco ’Yaks is also spearheading other projects that include spray-painting local storm drains with a “Lake Erie starts here” message and speaking to schools and youth groups about marine debris prevention.
Armed with large stencils and white parking lot paint, volunteers have been dispatched to streets and neighborhoods throughout Lorain County to emblaze the message that’s meant to build awareness about how important it is to keep storm drains clean of debris and litter.
“There’s a lot of people, not just youth, [who] think that there’s some kind of filter and anything that goes down the storm drain will stop before it gets to the lake, and that’s not true,” Moore-Koscho says. “We’ve probably done about 50 drains so far this season. In the end, we want to have at least 400 to 500 storm drains throughout the county painted.”
During educational clinics, Moore-Koscho also talks a lot about storm drains, showing pictures of exactly how the drains work and how the water flows from the drain directly into the lake.
“It’s amazing how many adults I hear that are just like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know that.’ And I’m just like, ‘See?’ That’s why I have to do this. That’s why I have to tell everyone,” she says. “It has changed my life, honestly. I studied fashion design in Los Angeles…and now I’m this huge environmentalist who has a job with the EPA. It’s just so different from where I thought I would be, but I absolutely love everything about it.”