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The Blue River Strengthens Neighborhoods

Photos: (Left) Members of the Blue Valley Community Advisory Council tour the restoration site at Blue Valley Park with guest Larry O'Donnell from Healthy Rivers Partnership in April of 2019. (Right) East High School Green Guard Stewards practice plant identification with Dacoda Maddox from the US Forest Service in Spring of 2019.

We'd love to see the neighborhood (residents) back out at the park biking, fishing, and exploring the nature trails,” said Nancy Simons, Vice President of the Blue Valley Park Neighborhood Association.

While Blue Valley Park and the neighborhood named for this city stream are intrinsically connected to the Blue River, historic disinvestment of the area has created barriers for citizens to enjoy the river and park. The 240-acre park is the site of illegal dumping, flooding, invasive plants and dangerous activities. But that is changing.

"One of the primary goals for the natural area restoration is to create a safe and clean environment in a part of the park that hasn’t been used for years,” Nancy said of a new project funded by the National Recreation and Parks Association. “The natural area is near ballfields and will give families a place to hike, learn and see nature.”

Working with Heartland Conservation Alliance, Nancy helped convene a Community Advisory Council that is planning community workdays and celebrations in the coming months as part of a 40-acre restoration.

“We are working with KC Parks, KC Water, Healthy Rivers Partnership, Urban Trail Co. and Habitat Architects to design and restore this gem of a natural area right along the banks of the Blue River,” explained Jill Erickson, Executive Director, Heartland Conservation Alliance. “We need to remove invasive plants and develop a management plan to help KC Parks and the community steward this beautiful spot.”

George Kessler, considered the grandfather of Kansas City’s parks and boulevards system, in the 1900’s considered the Blue River one of the area’s most valuable natural assets and envisioned a beltway of open green space along the river. When Blue Valley Park was established in 1943 it was in keeping with Kessler’s vision. You can still find some of the best skyline views of downtown Kansas City to the west and the Blue River to the east from the covered pavilion in the park. Amenities have been added to the park in the past ten years, including a spray water park and frisbee golf course, but the forests near the Blue River have languished.

This project builds on work by Healthy Rivers Partnership restoring part of the riparian forest. The project includes working with Urban Trail Co. to design a single-track trail and create a trained volunteer base to care for the trails. Two elementary schools and a recreation center close to the park will help design the project so they can more fully access the natural areas.

“The dream is to provide access to this little patch of woods for field trips and science lessons,” Nancy said. “This partnership with Heartland Conservation Alliance has been great to engage the community with bettering a public park that is at the heart of our neighborhood."

The Blue River is truly a natural gem in the heart of our city that we believe can strengthen not only individual communities but also connect all of our communities and shared visions and goals together. The river connects us all.

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