John Tetzloff, left, and Mac Albin work a seine as they check life in Little Darby Creek in April of 2014.
Longtime Advocate for Ohio streams will be missed
March 6, 2016
Ohio lost its leading stream ambassador on Feb. 20. Howard T. Albin, who everyone knew simply as Mac, finally lost a hard-fought battle with cancer at age 68.
While Mac spent a long, productive career as Franklin County Metro Parks’ aquatic ecologist, his interest in things watery began much earlier.
In 1972, Mac’s thesis for his master's degree at OSU was accepted. The 99-page essay was labeled in dry academese: A Comparative Study of the Behavior and Ecology of Two Sympatric Darters in Ohio With Special Reference to Competition.
While the thesis missed the best-sellers list, it was infused with Mac’s passion for his favorite fishes, the darters. His dry humor crept in, too.
From the acknowledgments: “I wish the thieves who stole my car, notes and equipment the best of luck in finding use for a current flow meter.”
His research site was Clear Creek at the northern edge of the Hocking Hills. Today, much of that stream is protected as Metro Parks’ second largest preserve, Clear Creek Metro Park.
Mac was possessed of a rare and remarkable intellectual curiosity. Few things in the natural world escaped his notice, and everything warranted inspection. A lunker smallmouth bass warranted no more interest than an obscure caddisfly larva or a faded mussel shell.
While Mac’s interests often tilted towards the arcane, he was wise to the superficiality of human interests. Thus, the colorful fish known as darters were his bait. Scores of people were instantly captivated when he reached into his net and produced a brilliant rainbow darter or emerald-colored greenside darter.
The darter became the springboard to teaching greater awareness of aquatic ecosystems and, above all, the importance of conserving our streams. Throughout his long career, Mac turned on thousands of people of all ages to the magic of darters, dragonflies, hellgrammites and myriad other beasts.
The Darby creeks were nearest to Mac’s heart, and he was passionate about their protection. The last of my many trips afield with Mac was to a special honey hole in Little Darby Creek not far from where he lived. That was on April 13, 2014, and he was already fighting the battle that ultimately brought him down.
Nonetheless, all was forgotten when we entered the stream. I’ve yet to meet anyone who could read a river like Mac. He would point out subtle variations in a riffle’s tempo, and tell you what fish to expect in each spot.
We’d wallow over and seine up just what he said we’d find. And he’d delight over the catches, just as he had a thousand times before.
I wish there were an army of Mac Albins safeguarding every stream. The world would be a far better place. We’ll miss you, Mac.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.