Flexibility, Collaboration, and Perseverance
Save Edison Woods
By Kate Pilacky
Firelands Land Conservancy, Friends of Wetlands
With 460 species of plants Edison
Woods is one of the most biologically diverse properties
in Northern Ohio. The woods has no paved trails
but provides ample opportunity for exploration.
Credit: Copyright © Cloudeight Internet LLC
The Edison Woods Preserve, located in Erie County, Ohio,
about a mile from Lake Erie, is comprised of 1400 acres
of woods, including approximately 600 acres of wetlands.
Edison Woods offers crucial wildlife habitat in a region
facing rapid development. With 460 species of plants it
is one of the most biologically diverse properties in
Northern Ohio. The preserve is home to potentially rare
salamanders and other amphibians, several endangered or
threatened plants, and it is an important migratory bird
habitat in a part of Ohio almost entirely denuded of trees.
The land also contains the headwaters of Old Woman Creek,
part of the national coastal research system.
In 1998 the owners of the woods, FirstEnergy Corp, indicated
that they would be interested in selling the entire 1300
acres. For eight years Erie MetroParks had leased the
property from FirstEnergy making it available for public
use. If developers were allowed to purchase the woods
it would be a great loss of wildlife habitat and public
greenspace. Recognizing the importance of protecting the
woods, a group of concerned citizens came together to
form the Friends of Edison Woods (FEW), a grassroots group
dedicated exclusively to the permanent protection of Edison
FEW knew that it would cost the Erie MetroParks between
$4million and $6 million to purchase the property. Without
a firm dollar amount for the purchase price of the woods
FEW decided to wait before approaching local foundations
or other large contributors. They did, however apply for
and receive a $3000 grant from GLAHNF to compile a simple
but effective brochure to educate public officials, media,
and Erie county residents about the existence of prime
wooded wildlife habitat in Edison Woods and why it should
be protected. The brochure would explain the ecological
significance, the geological history, and the recreational
opportunities of Edison Woods Reserve.
With grant funding, 25,000 educational brochures were
printed and distributed during the summer of 2000. Approximately
7,500 residents of Erie County received the brochure along
with an accompanying letter and a fundraising appeal.
Additional copies of the brochure were distributed at
county fairs and other Erie County events. Money raised
through the fundraising effort was used for additional
FEW members were actively involved in giving presentations
and fundraising, donating approximately 800 man-hours.
A campaign detailing the significance of the site and
requesting the permanent protection of the land was directed
to the real estate division of FirstEnergy, the Governor
of Ohio, and other officials.
In September of 2000 a levy for Edison Woods, authorizing
the Erie MetroParks’ acquisition of the woods, was introduced.
The levy was scheduled to be on the November 2000 ballot,
which left its proponents with little time to generate
voter support. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) was able
to secure some funding for the levy campaign, contributing
money and expertise to the voter initiative. The Erie
MetroParks also received funding to develop a park plan,
which included a nature center, baseball diamonds, and
improved trails in hopes that additional facilities would
increase voter buy-in.
Despite delays such as, uncertainty about on the asking
price of the land and whether or not the seller would
be willing to wait on the outcome of the levy, the campaign
to save the woods persisted. Volunteers canvassed door-to-door
with flyers, wrote letters of support, and held educational
events at public venues.
The levy to raise funds for the purchase of Edison Woods
went to ballot in November of 2000 and failed by 1500
votes. A logging interest came in and began marking trees
to cut almost immediately after the levy failed. Hearts
sank with high priced housing looming, but we did not
give up. FEW’s mission had always been the preservation
of Edison Woods and they were determined to find another
way. Through the public education and citizen awareness
campaign FEW was successful in keeping Edison Woods in
the public view and was able to help retain the possibility
of Erie MetroParks’ purchase of Edison woods. As it turned
out they had been able to generate enough public interest
to keep the door open just long enough for final protection.
TPL had begun general discussions with FirstEnergy regarding
the possible acquisition of the Edison Woods property
in the spring of 1998 and became even more involved during
the levy campaign. When the levy failed they "pulled
a rabbit from a hat." TPL secured funding through
the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resources
Restoration Sponsorship Program (WRRSP). The WRRSP is
intended to improve and protect water quality through
the purchase of undeveloped land where surface waters
are filtered through natural processes such as those that
take place in wetlands. Municipalities borrowing money
from the State's Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF)
receive an interest rate reduction (.1%) for borrowing
more money than needed and then using the additional money
for water resource protection or restoration projects.
Through this program the municipality’s overall payments
on the loan are reduced.
In an incredibly tight timeframe a "sponsor"
for the WRRSP funding was found in the City of Marion,
located 70 miles south of Edison Woods. The city of Marion
tacked on an extra $6 million to their loan request and
gave that money to Erie MetroParks. The cost to purchase
the Edison Woods Preserve was approximately 4.5 million
dollars, leaving money for property restoration, including
the return of more than 300 acres of old wet farm fields
to native prairie grasses. During a 20-year period (while
Marion pays back the loan) Erie MetroParks must manage
the restoration work according to a detailed Ohio EPA
plan. Among other things, the plan spells out the details
of where the native forest will be allowed to return and
how the meadows shall be maintained.
The sale of the property closed around the end of March
2001. The dedication ceremony took place in October 2001
and the public maintains access to this special natural
area. Due to the efforts of grassroots community groups,
Erie MetroParks, and the Ohio office of the Trust for
Public Land, Edison Woods is now permanently protected.
Having successfully seen their goal to its completion
the Friends of Edison Woods dissolved as an organization.
Individuals who had been active in FEW continue to be
involved in other organizations but with the goal of saving
Edison Woods accomplished the members of FEW have been
able to concentrate their efforts elsewhere.
Edison Woods Preserve has no nature center, no ball diamonds,
and no paved trails. Most of the individuals working on
the campaign just wanted the land to be preserved, period.
That is what we have, quiet trails, migratory bird habitat,
wildflowers, and big trees. And wetlands, a place for
leopard frogs, salamanders, spring peepers, and some muddy
hiking boots, which is just fine!
Edison Woods is located on Rt. 61 in Berlin Heights,
Ohio, just south of Rt. 2. For more information about
this special place, please call Erie MetroParks at (419)
or visit the Trust for Public Land at www.tpl.org.