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Connecting to Nature Strengthens Community Health

Panelists share personal stories of connecting to nature. Carl Stafford (pictured far left) emceed the program.

Each year, Heartland Conservation Alliance hosts the Annual Partnership Summit to celebrate the work of Alliance members and partners working together to protect nature and connect more people to nature in the metropolitan Kansas City area. This year’s event was held at Boulevard Brewery on Monday, Nov. 4 and featured the theme: Community Connections. The Blue River and nature connects all of us. Five Alliance members shared personal stories of connecting communities to nature, and in return, connecting communities to each other. Panelists included Antoney Perez,, Belinda Shelby, Ann Pai, Ian Fannin-Hughes and Bill Brant. The program was emceed by HCA Partnership Work Group member, Carl Stafford. Antoney Perez, Police Athletic League, leads recreational programs for area teens, including taking kids on bike rides on trails along the Blue River. He shared how he would like to see more people in his community connecting to nature. He envisions a river with more access, including more river access for canoeing. “[Experiencing] the Blue River taught me, and helped me teach other people, the importance of taking responsibility of the area in which we live and to take responsibility in the work in which we do,” shared Belinda Shelby, local social worker 2018 Green Guard Steward. “There are 25 miles along the Blue River, but the connection is a little bit deeper,” observed Ann Pai, Urban Trail Co. who is working to build trails and train volunteers throughout the Blue River corridor. “Most people who volunteer to help with trails do so within five miles That means the real connection is connecting neighbors to come and help care for a bit of nature right by their houses.” “We need advocates for watersheds and streams,” added Ian Fannin-Hughes, City of Overland Park Public Works and HCA Steering Council member. “We need someone to say, this is what’s in the best interest for Wolf Creek, Coffee Creek. We need them to be an advocate for everything going wrong and going right.” "The Blue River, including the riparian land adjacent to the river, provides a community connection in a way that roads and highways do not,” summed up long-time Blue River volunteer Bill Brant. “A person can travel along the Blue River and go from one community to another while immersed in nature. I have met folks from all parts of the metro area along the Blue River." There are many stories that inspire and encourage stewardship for the Blue River and we hope these stories carry into the new year and help us all be more thoughtful of the ways nature connects and strengthens our connections.

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