This is a guest post from Robert Koonce, the Chief Development Officer with Boy & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. West Creek Conservancy recently complete the Morgana Bluffs Project which helped preserve a high quality wetland in Cleveland’s Slavic Village.

Conservation work rightly focuses on the ecological details. The abundance and distribution of plant and animal species, the sinuosity of streams, the diversity of wetlands, the extent of the tree canopy – conservation saves all of it. The reality, though, is that conservation saves people. Given enough time, the earth would heal itself from our misdeeds, but we need nature now and will need abundant access to it in the future.

Nowhere is this more true than in our inner city. Here where residents are surrounded by the noise, pollution, and hardscapes of urban life; it’s here where nature makes a deep and lasting impact to reduce stress and crime, improve health, and restore real estate value. West Creek has been a crucial partner to one such project and as a recipient of your organization’s expertise and good will, I have to extend my thanks.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland serves the most vulnerable youth in Cleveland, empowering them to reach their full potential. We serve 1,000 young people each day at 13 locations in our community’s most distressed neighborhoods. Our members find not only a safe place, but also access to a range of programs that lead to academic success, healthier lifestyles, and character development. Club members dance, read, create art, play sports, grow food, visit museums, play math games, volunteer in the community, and hang out with good friends and great mentors. The clubs are where great futures start, for the kids and for our community.

Our flagship club and administrative center located in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood sits on land once occupied by the sprawling Worsted Mills manufacturing facility. The massive complex employed thousands in its heyday, but, nearly abandoned by the early 1990’s, the complex was heavily damaged by arson and was demolished. A portion of the land was repurposed to our facility which includes an urban farm, pollinator garden, plus sports fields in addition to our 16,000 square foot club space. Other land became a new elementary school and then a 4.5 acre parcel was left to revert to nature.

This parcel, nestled between our site and the school alongside the Morgana Run Bike Trail, is now in play to become a high quality wetland because of the support we received from West Creek. Your efforts helped us secure two grants, the first from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District Green Infrastructure program and the second from the Clean Ohio Greenspace Conservation Fund.

Site improvements will include ADA accessible trails, an enhanced wetland, and substantial invasive species removal. This preserve, open to public at its completion in October 2019, will become a primary learning and recreation tool for the 125 kids who come to our adjacent club. With our members and the population of nearby schools, the neighborhood sees 1,700 students daily. They will now have a high quality nature preserve within walking distance, right in the heart of one of Cleveland’s most struggling neighborhoods. This preserve is for them.

Your support has made this possible. West Creek accomplishes projects like this every day – projects that make nature accessible to people. And, in the process, makes all our lives healthier, happier, and more prosperous.

A copy of this guest post can also be found on West Creek Conservancy’s website.