Today I was invited by Paul Palagyi, Director, Lake Metroparks, to speak at the dedication of ‘Lake Erie Bluffs’ at the end of Lane Road and Blackmore Road in Perry Township. Other speakers included Congressman David Joyce, FrankPolivka, Lake Metroparks Commissioner, and people from Governor Kasich’s office, US EPA, Western Reserve Land Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. Overhead, a couple bald eagles drifted back and forth against the blue skies as though on cue. I wasn’t sure what I could offer to this gathering of great people. I got really nervous, listening to the others, and considered discarding my planned remarks in favor of a couple brief sentences. But when I was called up to the podium I found my voice…said ‘I’m going to offer a local view’… and went ahead with remarks that are in note-form below.
Prior to 1800s
NE Ohio controlled by the Iroquois… hunting ground only… shared with other tribes…
At end of Antioch Road… a mile or two from here…now preserved as a Lake Metropark… a bubbling spot in the Lake water… close to shore…
to the native americans, a sign of the gods… an area known for bountiful and bountiful hunting…
Indians did not believe in owning the lands
How can you own the wind?
How can you own the rain?
How can you own the land?
I’ll come back to this theme in a minute…
October 10, 1796
General Cleaveland and his team… rowing back from surveying Cleveland
Spent the night at the end of Antioch Road
The general held an inverted glass over the bubbling spot on the Lake… in about 4’ of water… and then lit it… watching the natural gas burn
JJ Harrison immigrated from England to Painesville… 26 years later formed a partnership with Jesse Storrs… they decided Lake County was only big enough to support one nursery… Storrs & Harrison would grow to become the biggest in the World… about two miles West of here… from Bacon Road and Rt 20 to the shores of Lake Erie. They settled on the ‘Lake Plain’… the ‘Nursery Belt’… about six miles deep and twenty miles long… an area favored by a longer Growing Season thanks to nearby Lake Erie…
Storrs & Harrison began buying Lake Sturgeon from the fishermen at the mouth of the Grand River… so plentiful they used them as fertilizer…
A polish immigrant named Paul Werner founded Werner Nursery less than a mile from here on North Ridge Road. He prospered for some years… selling plants to Storrs & Harrison… raising pigs and chickens. But during the 1930s… swimming right here at the end of Blackmore Road with the workers after a long day in the fields… tragically he drowned. And the nursery became abandoned and rundown.
My Father and my Grandparents purchased the former Werner Nursery… and we operate it to this day as Gilson Gardens. It still may look rundown… but it’s not abandoned.
Puckerbrush, on Lockwood Road near North Perry Park… a short ways from the ‘bubbling waters’ that the Indians associated with good fishing… offered rentals of Lyman Boats with Johnson 3-horsepower motors. We fished off the rocky bottom for perch. I remember asking my Father about the armada of small boats farther out… their lanterns twinkling in the twilight. ‘those are the pike grounds’ he replied. Blue Pike, a close cousin of the Walleye.
My brothers and I would swim at the end of Blackmore Road after working in the nursery… fortunately without tragedy.
North Perry Park with the meeting house was near here… had a long wide path to the Lake… a changing house halfway down… and a caretaker who liked to drink too much.
Even closer was Perry Park with Little League teams and the dance hall… now gone… where local bands played Motown, Cream and Iron Butterfly for local teens on Thursday nights. It was our own American Graffiti.
We woke up one day and the Lake was dead. Piles of dead fish rotting on the beaches kept everyone away. We lost the sturgeon. The Blue Pike became extinct. How could this happen in one lifetime? How could we destroy the legacy of the Native Americans. But an amazing thing followed. Local states and Canadian provinces came together to reduce Phosphate pollution by two thirds. And the Lake… unexpectedly… came back to life.
New challenges confront us. To ward off harmful algae blooms from Western Lake Erie we must reduce phosphate pollution by two-thirds… again. Our local nurseries… while not a contributor… support these efforts state-wide.
The Lake has strong champions…
John Eklund, member of a Lake and waters watchdog group in the Ohio Senate… supports these efforts.
Congressman David Joyce… remains our Champion for Lake Erie in the US House of Representatives.
Locally, we have Harry Allen… who spent countless hours on the Lakeshore Project for Lake County… and who sold some of these properties into the Conservancy that we mark today.
… we have our Lake Soil & Water group… we have conservancy and Environmental groups… like Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity… and we have Paul Palagyi… director of Lake Metroparks… who worked in Washington DC on some of the original Clean Waters legislation.
I believe our best and highest use of the Perry Lakefront is conservancy and preservation. This puts me at odds sometimes with the other members of our Joint Economic Development District board of directors…in fact the road in to this park may look like a former industrial park. As Americans, we believe in private ownership of land and the primacy of property owners… but certain areas and certain properties, such as these, are so intimate and so integral that they MUST be preserved for the good of the people. Our native American ancestors would smile on this congregation today. In the end… we’re all stewards… not owners. I personally believe that the ‘halo effect’ of this conservation will provide vast economic benefit for our children… and their children… in Perry and Lake County… in the generations to come.