By Jane Goodman and Elizabeth Hoffman, Friends of Euclid Creek
In the wake of an intense battle over a 67-acre luxury mall development within some of the Euclid Creek Watershed’s last significant stands of forest, the Friends of Euclid Creek was spawned. Virginia Aveni of Lyndhurst, Ohio and a group of concerned citizens in neighboring communities came together to do something about the looming development and increased downstream flooding. With some help from the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), the Friends of Euclid Creek was formed to promote watershed stewardship and protect their backyard stream.
OEC sought to help bring together a collection of friends and allies from groups such as the League of Women 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.
Our GLAHNF grant was for a “Starting Up Project” to protect and bring awareness to the watershed by forming a local watershed group for the Euclid Creek area. (The watershed is in northeast Ohio, near the eastern suburbs of Cleveland.) Friends of 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 watershed stewards and stand up for the creek’s integrity.
The first step to facilitating community stewardship came in the form of Euclid Creek Day. Over 20 organizations, including municipalities, parks, libraries, universities and schools signed on as supporters of Euclid Creek Day. A promotional poster was printed to solidify the event. Additionally, promotional cards were passed out and collected asking for the names of those interested in participating in the newly formed group. 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 future intentions.
Friends of Euclid Creek has made great strides in educating their community regarding watershed stewardship and the importance of the creek. The Friends are in the process of deciding whether to incorporate as a 501(c)(3). Furthermore, groups in Northeast Ohio, after seeing the success of the Friends of Euclid Creek, are more receptive to a council of watershed groups in the region, and the Ohio Environmental Council, building on the successes of the Friends of Euclid Creek, is working to establish such a group.
What do you consider the key to your success?
The strong leadership of Virginia Aveni and others was essential to the development of the emerging watershed group. Strong leaders bring credibility to the idea of forming watershed groups, and also draw interested people into the process. A strong leader gains respect through skills that place emphasis on a fair process for determining goals, objectives and group roles.
Other important aspects were database development, public outreach, public relations, group dynamics and strategic planning.
Lastly, a strong understanding of the political, social, economic and demographic landscape is vital to the health of the project.
How would you outline the steps you took to organize your project in order to advise another group working on a similar project?
What have the effects of this effort been on your organization’s work?
Opportunities like this “Starting-Up” project provide OEC a unique perspective on the everyday issues watershed groups must deal with in order to accomplish their goals and objectives. These types of experiences shed light on the services OEC should provide for developing and existing watershed groups around the state.
In addition, this project was part of a larger initiative to strengthen individual watershed groups in Northeast Ohio with the eventual goal of fostering the formation of a regional watershed council for Northeast Ohio.
How has the project affected your community?
The communities in Euclid Creek now have greater knowledge and appreciation for the watershed and the importance of watershed stewardship.
What particular stumbling blocks, challenges, or defeats did you encounter?
The sudden departure of a key leader and the lack of full funding for the project were hurdles that the “Starting-up” project encountered. OEC had to re-start from square one to identify leadership and interest in starting a Friends of Euclid Creek group as well as developing a plan that was capable of achieving success on a limited budget.
How was public involvement motivated and facilitated?
Through the organization of “Euclid Creek Day”. The event was advertised via promotional posters and media coverage. Events at “Euclid Creek Day” included nature hikes, a table-top exhibition, a benthic macroinvertebrates collection display and testing, music, and kids’ activities.
In addition, a creek cleanup was held and fishing events were included.
How was public education a component of your program?
It was a critical part of the project by educating the community about the importance of the watershed and why stewardship is so critical. “Euclid Creek Day” and a follow-up event with the president of the West Creek Preservation Committee to share his experiences. Currently, storm stenciling activities and teacher education projects are being planned.
What was the primary means of communication?
Through media sources such as the local newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, posters, e-mails, phone calls, T-shirts, and visors.
What resources were available/acquired/tapped into?
$1,500 from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and small portions of two grants were used specifically for the project, in addition to being utilized to support capacity building workshops and for steering the formation of a regional watershed council in Northeast Ohio.
Funds were provided by an Ohio DNR Coastal Management Assistance grant and the Lake Erie Protection Fund. The City of Euclid provided T-shirts and visors for the group.
What level and types of media exposure were you able to obtain and how did it affect/assist your efforts?
Press releases were sent out for a local development project and for “Euclid Creek Day”. The group’s media exposure was greatly increased by articles in the local newspaper and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In addition, the Friends of Euclid Creek printed promotional posters for the Euclid Creek Day event and the City of Euclid printed T-shirts and visors. All of this greatly increased the Friends’ exposure locally and helped to recruit new members to the organization.
Other comments that you feel would be helpful to other grassroots organizations working on similar projects.
Strong leadership is essential to the beginning stages of any watershed group. In addition, watershed groups must keenly understand their audience, allies, and foes in order to realize a valid purpose and niche for their organization. Also, discussions with other watershed groups in the region can prove to be valuable.