Trail Development Creative Advocacy Campaign.
RiverWise is a nonprofit in Beaver County that employs sustainable development practices to
create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. At the heart of this work is a concerted effort to organize stakeholders to dream, learn, and collaborate about the future of our rivers. With the help of partners, New Sun Rising, RiverWise campaigned to save the Black’s Run Bridge from demolition.
Trailhead: Where We Started
Beaver County has spent more than a decade building a network of biking and walking trails that will eventually connect Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC. These trails provide opportunities for recreation, fitness, tourism, and economic development. They allow residents to explore their region while also seeing both new and familiar faces along the way.
The Black’s Run Bridge was at risk of being demolished, which would set the project back at least 50 years. The RiverWise Bridge Campaign was launched to inspire the community to take action, attempt to save Black’s Run Bridge, and encourage the County to add it to their inventory of maintained bridges. These steps would stop the demolition and help ensure the initiative to create a network of trails along the Ohio River continues moving forward.
One of the challenges was convincing residents that they, too, had a voice. Prior to the campaign, residents didn’t know what it meant to advocate for an issue and they were unsure how to get involved. RiverWise’s efforts were aimed at saving the Black’s Run Bridge while also empowering current residents to stand up for an issue worth pursuing and infrastructure worth saving.
Trek: Steps We’ve Taken
To keep the vision of trail development alive in Beaver County, RiverWise launched a campaign to encourage the Beaver County Board of Commissioners to take immediate ownership of the Black’s Run Bridge, preventing its demolition and ensuring that residents of the region can experience the benefit of a robust network of walking and bike trails in Beaver County.
The original goal was to raise awareness of the project. It started with a Change.org petition so that residents of Beaver County and the broader region could demonstrate their support for preventing the demolition of the Black’s Run Bridge. That allowed residents to quickly and directly inform the officials of the importance of trails to everyone who signed the petition.
What started out as a traditional campaign, slowly transitioned to a multichannel, creative approach. Blog posts were written to inform the community on why the issue was important. The online portion of the campaign then encouraged Beaver County residents to follow RiverWise on social media to keep up-to-date on important developments on the campaign. Marketing partners created videos and graphics to effectively communicate key statistics related to the importance of the Black’s Run Bridge in the community. MailChimp to spread the word via email and provide a call-to-action for promotional assistance from partners, influencers, and stakeholders.
As the campaign continued, RiverWise realized that they needed to do more. Additional visibility for their efforts and the campaign was required to raise awareness and inspire action. Executive Director, Daniel Rossi-Keen, took the lead by writing articles that were published in the Beaver County TImes. This step gave the campaign a larger platform, which caught the eye of the Commissioner. It also drove more people to the Facebook page where they could catch up on the progress of the campaign and sign the petition.
RiverWise and their marketing partners also came up with a creative way to promote the campaign by developing dating profiles for the bridges they were trying to save. This unique approach caught the attention of Beaver County residents and gave them something to talk about, which expanded word-of-mouth promotion and social media engagement.
Summit: Vision Realized
While the campaign ultimately did not save the Black’s Run Bridge, it was not a total loss. The Beaver County community saw an organization and its residents come together to stand up for something they believed in. They learned that they now have a collective voice to advocate for issues that matter and they do have the power to make a difference in their region.
The campaign also helped RiverWise realize that nonprofits have a gap when it comes to creative advocacy. They recognized that nonprofits should be educated in the best strategies for developing and managing similar campaigns, so they, too, can make a difference in the communities they serve. RiverWise learned that it takes engaged individuals and the right message to get a point across. It doesn’t necessarily require participation by the majority of the population. With this in mind, we’ve created the Title of PlayBook to help other nonprofits establish themselves in the community through creative campaigns that help society become a better place to live.
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TrailBlaze believes actions and opportunities that create equity are critical to developing a society without division. Vibrant communities develop more efficiently and sustainably when division is acknowledged and reduced. We offer this perspective in every project we do.