Forming a Watershed Group: The Friends of Euclid Creek Story

Forming a Watershed Group: The Friends of Euclid Creek Story

by Marc Grossman, Ohio Environmental Council

Most citizen-based watershed groups form amidst crisis. The Friends of Euclid Creek are no exception. In the wake of an intense battle over a 67-acre luxury mall development within some of the watershed’s last significant stands of forest, the group was spawned. Virginia Aveni of Lyndhurst, Ohio – a former state representative – and a group of concerned citizens in neighboring communities came together to do something about the looming development and increased downstream flooding. With a little help from the Ohio Environmental Council, Friends of Euclid Creek was formed to promote watershed stewardship and protect their backyard stream, Euclid Creek.

Euclid Creek is a 9.5-mile tributary to Lake Erie that flows through Cleveland’s eastern suburbs. The Euclid Creek watershed is consumed with large tracts of impervious surface and suburban development. Its waters fail to meet the attainment standards set by the Clean Water Act. Nonetheless, Euclid Creek anchors a 3-mile stretch of mature forest in a Cleveland Metro Park system, the Euclid Reserve. In addition, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources maintains a state park where the creek empties into Lake Erie. It’s no Mississippi, but Euclid Creek does provide a bucolic anchor consisting of small and large parks for those in its watershed.

Friends of Euclid Creek was launched when Virginia asked OEC to help bring together a collection of friends and allies from groups such as the League of Women’s Voters, local gardening clubs, park workers, a local university, and other area activists for a meeting on the state of the creek. At the meeting, the group discussed the increased frequency of flooding, the persistent seizure of green space adjacent to the creek’s waters for residential and commercial development, and continued beach closings where Euclid Creek empties into Lake Erie. The familiar alarms about a surge of unruly development projects and poor land stewardship were raised. One meeting participant exclaimed, “we already got a drug store on every other corner, how could another make any money … and developers are planning to pave another 50 acres for more giant discounters.”

Everyone at the meeting agreed – Euclid Creek needed a friend. Its waters had been piped underground in too many spots and its biological integrity degraded. This anchor to some of the most used parks in the Cleveland area had been transformed into a drainage route for runoff. The creek’s bed has been widened and its banks have eroded through years of undergoing additional flow and hydromodification. Flooding was a real problem for residents downstream and the Euclid Reservation reinstated its banks almost yearly. To those at the meeting, it was apparent that people in the watershed didn’t see Euclid Creek as a resource to be restored and protected.

Friends of the Euclid Creek set out to change the spirit of neglect that pervaded the shores of Euclid Creek. Its founders saw themselves as stewards of the creek with a mission to teach their neighbors to be the watershed stewards and stand up for the creek’s integrity when necessary.

The first step to facilitating community stewardship of the creek came in the form of Euclid Creek Day. Friends of the Euclid Creek, a group of about eight concerned citizens at that point, planned on setting up a day to recognize Euclid Creek as a unique water resource to be cherished and cared for by the residents of its watershed. The idea for Euclid Creek Day was born about a month after the group’s first meeting. Shortly after, municipalities in the watershed bought into the idea and the mayor of South Euclid, the city that experienced the most flooding, was named Honorary Chair of Euclid Creek Day.

During the next four months, over 20+ organizations, including municipalities, parks, libraries, universities, and schools signed on as supporters of Euclid Creek Day. The Friends printed a promotional poster and suddenly Euclid Creek Day solidified into a real event to celebrate the creek and promote stewardship in its watershed. At the celebration for the creek, Friends of the Euclid Creek passed out and collected promotional cards asking for the names of those interested in participating in the newly formed group. Boxes identifying a range of interests from computer work to developing educational programs to fundraising to clean-ups were added to the promotional literature to gauge and catalog the interests of prospective members. The Friends compiled a database of interested parties and set out to inform all those interested through letters, e-mails, and newspaper articles about their intention to formalize as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to promote stewardship of the creek.

The concept of Friends of Euclid Creek, launched at an informal gathering of friends followed by a series of fun, though sometimes laborious meetings, blossomed into a sustainable organization capable of providing a voice for the creek. Friends of Euclid Creek was born during a journey that began by bringing people together to identify a common problem and find an achievable solution.

For more information, please contact Jane Goodman at (216) 291-4323 or email her at janegood@jgoodwork.com.

 

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