Meet local environmental steward: Derek Schafer
For my column this week, I interviewed the executive director of West Creek Conservancy, Derek Schafer. Derek lives in Bay Village and his organization is spearheading multiple conservation projects in and around Cleveland. West Creek Conservancy’s mission is “to enrich the lives of all people in Northeast Ohio by conserving natural habitats, restoring the ecological value of our region’s lands and waters, and expanding opportunities to connect people from all cultures to experience nature and discover our great outdoors.”
I recently met Derek and was inspired by his work with West Creek Conservancy; I also think it’s very important that the community learn about key local environmental work that is being done around us, because their work benefits each and every one of us.
Derek has been the executive director of West Creek since 2014 and has been with the organization since 2004. He grew up on a small farm outside of Columbus and spent his days fishing, playing in the fields and forests, and camping. Additionally, his parents had the same love of the outdoors and before he graduated from high school he had visited most of our national parks and forests, further cementing his love of nature and the critical importance of environmental conservation.
As he grew up on his farm, the areas around where Derek lived started being developed and natural habitats were lost and destroyed. As an astute teenager with a love of the outdoors, the sprawl he witnessed did not include planned greenspace, stormwater control, or tree canopy cover. While he was unable to make a difference in the changes that were happening around him, it inspired him to take part in a unique vocational program offered in his high school that focused on environmental science, ecology, biology, geology, and urban geography. He then went on to Bowling Green State University and graduated with an environmental degree.
I asked him about the work West Creek does in our area, and why it is so important.
"Our natural areas, greenspaces, parks and trails are not some sort of ancillary ‘green’ infrastructure, they are simply infrastructure in our communities," Derek said. "Having the Great Lakes at our doorstep is not only one of the greatest advantages of living here, but it’s also one of our greatest responsibilities.”
I love this: our greatest natural resource where we live – Lake Erie – is also our most important responsibility. This means each of us as individuals has a role in that responsibility. As we know, fresh, clean water is scarce in many areas – even within our own country. It is imperative that every waterway, from the tiny streams that start at an inch wide, to the whole of Lake Erie, to all of the five Great Lakes, must be cared for and protected.
Derek emphasizes that we are one with our natural surroundings, and while there are regulations implemented now that help us live and protect nature, we must still work to continue to synthesize our world with the natural world. West Creek’s work consists of preserving greenspaces in areas such as small parks to massive wetland complexes and forests. Each of these areas are intertwined and provide greenways for people and wildlife, fresh water for us to drink, and clean air for us to breath. Preserving greenspaces preserves our biodiversity, which I wrote about recently. Biodiversity is directly tied to our survival.
What can we do? We can each take part in protecting our waterways by picking up trash on our streets, our beaches, and in our parks. Trash will eventually make its way into Lake Erie, so picking up litter is a simple action we can each take part in to protect our greatest resource.
Another thing we can do is support local nonprofits who are working everyday to protect our environment. Each of us benefits from their work.
West Creek Conservancy is a non-profit organization that conserves land in Greater Cleveland through acquiring land and conservation easements through purchase or donation. They have a strong focus on streams, rivers, and watershed protection and restoration. They work collaboratively to restore water quality and natural habitats in the environment, and reclaims/re-uses vacant urban land. They facilitate recreational trails and greenways, with the goal to connect humans with nature. They are involved with so many projects that I do not have enough space to list them! West Creek has a staff of only four people, and for each dollar donated, $0.96 goes directly into land and water projects.
West Creek has volunteer opportunities, and a membership program. Please consider becoming a West Creek Conservancy member by going to westcreek.org/for-individuals.Your donation – of any amount – will make a difference in our community!