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Brianna Leiker

Photo by HCA

Before I was an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Heartland Conservation Alliance in 2015 through 2016, I had not heard of the Blue River. During my year at HCA, most of my experiences with the Blue River were along the upper sections of the river where the banks are covered in trees and low-lying plants.

There was one event that HCA participated in 2016 during which we traveled the length of the Blue River, starting in the headwaters that I was familiar with and progressing to the downstream section of the river where the banks were approximately 40 feet of sloped concrete and the water channel looked to be only about 5 feet wide.

I was shocked. I had never seen anything like this before. It didn’t look like a river at all. I was struck by the sheer amount of money, time, concrete, and work it must have taken to build such high, smooth concrete banks for a substantial length of river. Looking at it, I wasn’t even sure if these structures could be considered “banks” of a “river.” The water temperature had to be extremely elevated too, baking in the hot sun surrounded by concrete without any shade.

It was so unnatural, and so different than the other sections of the river (and all other rivers) I was used to. And I questioned who ever thought this was a good idea? Without a doubt, the principle behind this engineering design was “get the water downstream as quickly as possible.” I wondered if the people who designed this concrete behemoth about 50 years ago thought about it any more. I’m still thinking about it 5 years later.

As the Disney classic movie Pocahontas states, “What I love most about rivers is/ You can’t step in the same river twice/ The water’s always changing, always flowing.” The Blue River has lived many lives and continues to do so in the present day. Through floods and droughts, banks of shady trees and banks of solid concrete, through midwestern winters and midwestern summers, the Blue River is now hidden from most of Kansas City, but the sheer scale of human influence demonstrated throughout its past can ignite the possibilities of big, positive influences in the future.

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