Beaver Creek Wetlands Association
By Joe Bonnell, web layout by Claire Beck
This is the first in a series of profiles of watershed group leaders around the state of Ohio. The Beaver Creek Wetlands Association (BCWA) is a non-profit, non-governmental land trust dedicated to preserving wetlands located along Beaver Creek and Little Beaver Creek through partnerships, community networks and public education.
On August 25, I travelled to the city of Beavercreek, east of Dayton, Ohio to meet with Jim Schneider, President of the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association (BCWA) Board of Trustees.
I met Jim at Beavercreek Station, part of Greene County’s trail system and a short walk from Zimmerman Prairie, part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, and Creekside Reserve, owned by the Greene County Parks and Trails.
Throughout the day, Jim and I visited several protected wetlands that make up part of the more than 2,000 acres of parks and preserves along a 12-mile corridor of the Beaver and Little Beaver creeks. The BCWA has been instrumental in protecting, restoring, and maintaining the chain of eleven protected wetlands, marsh, fen, prairie and riparian corridors since the organization formed in 1988. Given the scale of their accomplishments, it may be surprising to learn that BCWA is largely a volunteer organization with just one part-time Administrative Assistant.
So how did an all-volunteer organization manage to protect 2,000 acres of wetland in one of the fastest growing suburbs of Dayton, Ohio? While it is difficult to encapsulate the many keys to BCWA’s success, three stood out during my conversation with Jim Schneider: partnerships, skilled and knowledgeable leaders, and education and outreach.
“I think that patience and persistence are probably two of the key qualities of our past leaders because, particularly with [land] acquisition, even when you have willing sellers, it doesn’t happen fast.” – Jim Schneider
What stands out for me—more than the total acres of riparian wetlands, prairie, and woodland that have been protected as a direct result of the BCWA leadership—is the number of partners they have worked with over the years, and this is clearly a point of pride for the organization. As we sat on an observation deck at Koogler Wetland/Prairie Reserve, owned by Beavercreek Township, BCWA board president Jim Schneider shared with me that the BCWA leaders have never used an adversarial approach to achieve their goals, instead preferring to seek win/win options. I asked Jim about how the BCWA leaders worked with public officials and individual landowners to acquire new land for parks or preserves. He speculated that two qualities that BCWA leaders have had that have been most instrumental to their success are patience and persistence. BCWA only works with willing sellers, but it often requires years to build relationships with politicians and property owners before they’re willing to consider purchasing, selling or donating a property for permanent protection.
“The strategy is, it’s got to be a win-win for everybody. If you take an adversarial approach, then you put a person on the defensive and they’re going to resist what you want to do.” – Jim Schneider
The patience and persistence of the BCWA leaders has paid off. BCWA owns just part of one of the eleven parks and reserves along Beaver and Little Beaver creeks. Ownership of the remaining land is divided among the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and Division of Parks and Recreation, Greene County Parks and Trails, Beavercreek Township, and the city of Fairborn. Partners in the protection of these areas include Wright State University, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Tecumseh Land Trust, City of Beavercreek, Greene County Sanitary Engineering, The Dayton Foundation, and Marianist Environmental Education Center.
Skilled and knowledgeable leaders
Another quality of the BCWA leadership is their high level of knowledge and experience in wetland ecology and biology and park management. For example, Jim Schneider was the Assistant Director of Greene County Parks and Trails before he retired. He now runs his own trail planning and design consulting business. Two of the founders of the BCWA are retired professors with renown in their fields of biology and wetland ecology. Dr. Jim Amon is Emeritus Professor at Wright State University’s Department of Biological Sciences. Brother Don Geiger is Professor Emeritus at the University of Dayton Department of Biology and founder of the Marianist Environmental Education Center in Greene County. Both men continue to serve on the Board of Trustees and provide hundreds of hours of volunteer service at the parks and reserves.
“We have a great group of self-trained naturalists…having those resources, when we get calls from scout groups, home school groups that want programs, we have people who can provide that.” – Jim Schneider
Many BCWA board members and volunteers have become skilled amateur naturalists with extensive knowledge of local plants and wildlife. They apply this knowledge to educating visitors, controlling invasive species and identifying critical areas to target for preservation and restoration. While most of the parks and reserves along the Beaver Creek and Little Beaver Creek corridor are owned by state and local governments and agencies, much of the labor required to maintain the natural areas and miles of trails and boardwalks is provided by the BCWA volunteers.
Education and outreach
Jim also emphasized the key role education has played in the association’s success. He noted several times during our conversation that “people don’t support what they don’t understand”, and so a major thrust of the organization’s work is to make the areas they protect accessible to the public by constructing and maintaining miles of trails and boardwalks. Public officials and adjacent landowners are invited every year to visit and tour the wetlands and prairies to experience first-hand the benefits of collaborating with the BCWA.
“People don’t support what they don’t understand and if they can’t get out and in it, they can’t understand it. So, by having the boardwalks and making these wetland areas accessible, people can come out and see that these aren’t mosquito infested, varmint infested areas. These are beautiful natural areas.” – Jim Schneider
Takeaway lessons on leadership from the BCWA:
- Successful collaboration requires patience and persistence. Watershed group leaders need to be strategic about identifying potential partners. Once those key organizations, agencies, and individuals are identified, the leadership needs to invest time in those relationships over the long-term to build trust and social capital so that when an opportunity for collaboration arises, a strong foundation for partnership has already been established.
- Seek out leaders with experience, knowledge, and passion that match your organization’s mission. In particular, retired professionals often have extensive professional networks and many have a strong desire to give back to their local communities, especially if it gives them an excuse to learn about and spend time in natural areas.
- Engage adjacent landowners, public officials, and schools in appreciating and protecting natural areas. The BCWA ensures that key stakeholders in their watershed have the opportunity to spend time in and around the natural areas and preserves that they help protect. As Jim Schneider so aptly says, “people don’t support what they don’t understand.”