Who Will Win the Fight for Ohio’s Whiskey Island? Communicating Community Options

Who Will Win the Fight for Ohio’s Whiskey Island? Communicating Community Options

Whiskey Island sits on one of the most prominent locations on Lake Erie, where our American Heritage River, the Cuyahoga River, greets our Great Lake in downtown Cleveland. Its prominent location, 20 acres of undeveloped greenspace, incredible views of the Lake and the Cleveland skyline make its future use a point of contention.

The portion of Whiskey Island that is being fought over was land created by fill on the submerged lands of Lake Erie in the early 1900’s.Therefore, this public trust land is held in trust for 11 million Ohioans. It was leased to railroad companies until 1993, when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) issued a submerged land lease for a marina development project. The ODNR lease includes approximately 30- acres of filled lands and the adjacent 30-acres of Lake Erie.The grand vision of the largest marina (1500 slips) on Lake Erie never panned out.

The Creation and Mission of the Friends of Whiskey Island

In 1999 the marina developer put the 20-acre greenspace area up for sale. The Friends of Whiskey Island formed to raise awareness of the valuable natural area and promote public ownership of the property as a park.

Our fight to make the Whiskey Island greenspace a park has not been an easy “battle.” We started our campaign in opposition to the port authority’s plans to expand shipping docks onto the 20-acre greenspace area. Since then we have confronted the group that wants to develop the greenspace area as a large scale marina with public access and relocate a port authority bulk storage facility to the existing marina.

Communicating the Friends of Whiskey Island’s Mission

Since the Friends of Whiskey Island formed five years ago, our campaign has been relentless. Effective communication strategies such as the ones outlined below have been key to our ongoing efforts.

Public Opinion Petition- One way we demonstrated public opinion was by gathering signatures on a petition in support of a “Lakefront and Riverfront Park” on Whiskey Island. We have gathered over 3,500 signatures and have submitted the petition to state, county and city public officials.

Whiskey Island Postcards and Poster Boards-We distributed over 7,500 postcards with an impressive image of the Whiskey Island greenspace on the front and our urgent message to get involved along with our contact information on the back. Poster boards were created and widely displayed to illustrate our plans for a park and the other development plans. Both helped us get our message out by allowing the public to visualize what we may lose if Whiskey Island’s greenspace is not preserved.

Updated Newsletters- We updated our newsletter periodically to educate the public with a brief overview of our progress to create a park and the other development plans for Whiskey Island.

Public Waterfront Meetings and Environmental Events- To educate the public and get support for our cause, we have attended virtually every public meeting and environmental event regarding Cleveland’s waterfront. Of course, we always have our petitions, postcards, poster boards and newsletters at the meetings. We have also sponsored public events and tours of Whiskey Island.

Media Communications- The media has been very important in getting our story out to the masses. We familiarized ourselves with many of the reporters in the local media market and learned to pitch our story concisely. We successfully encouraged letters to the editor when significant events occurred.

Public Officials Communications- Most importantly, we have been in constant communication with our elected officials. We take them on site tours and continuously wrote letters with updated information urging them to preserve Whiskey Island.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.