by Jill Erickson
When you want to save a river, where do you start? For the Blue River, Heartland Conservation Alliance chose to focus on land and people. Sound science tells us that if we protect the land around the river, we will protect the water. Our hearts told us if we engage with communities surrounding the river and focus on revitalizing places where we work and plan, we will also revitalize the river.
Because they hug the Blue River, the five neighborhoods that make up the Marlborough Community Coalition were the first communities where Heartland Conservation Alliance began working to revitalize neighborhoods and protect the Blue River. In 2014, Diane Hershberger, then Marlborough Community Coalition Vice President took me on a driving tour of the community where I saw vacant and blighted lots, industrial businesses, an abandoned school building and unused trails. I also saw schools, businesses, homes, churches, a park, gardens and green infrastructure newly installed by KC Water. I learned about the Catalyst Plan and the community's vision for improvements by building on strong community resources and assets.
In 2016, as part of our Urban Waters Federal Partnership, we received funding from The Conservation Fund to work with members of the community on a combined sewer project at 81st Street and Troost Avenue. Through a series of workshops, events, field trips and Green Guard Stewardship classes, the community guided the development of a Nature & Play concept with "Nature Nodes" to add value and support a 9.5-acre green infrastructure project installed by KC Water to manage stormwater (scroll to project #15).
Today, the site features a trail, a playground, art sculptures and a wetland project that absorbs and filters "12,000,000 gallons of stormwater from approximately 72 acres in the Middle Blue River Watershed Basin. It also replenishes groundwater and sustains plants, trees, and natural habitats while working with gray infrastructure to increase the capacity of our underground pipes. What isn’t absorbed overflows into the Blue River." Marlborough is one of eight action areas that represent varying geographic areas and types of habitat and where Heartland Conservation Alliance and our partners prioritize decades of work to restore the health of the watershed.
Heartland Conservation Alliance continues to support and work with the Marlborough Community Coalition with events and the Green Guard Stewards. This spring, Stewards will help lead a tour and workshop at the site for community members to learn more about using nature-based solutions for community improvements.
Over the years, we have continued to work with neighborhoods building on our successes and lessons learned from our community partners in Marlborough. The Blue River is healthier from all of the work in Marlborough and more community members - young and old alike - have learned what a community asset the river is for our city.