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Honoring and connecting with nature

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

by Jill Erickson, Executive Director

On Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 we held our 7th Annual Partnership Summit. As in year's past, this annual event put the spotlight on the work of conservation partners throughout the metropolitan area. But unlike past events, this year we hosted the event outdoors at the Heartland Overlook Preserve, aka the HOP. This marked our first public event on the newly acquired 40-acre forest.

Two years ago HCA learned from Jackson County Parks + Rec and from Urban Trail Co. the land would be sold at a public auction and could be lost. HCA quickly mobilized and first tried to stop the auction. Unsuccessful with plan A, we moved to plan B and secured financing from The Conservation Fund to try buying the land at the auction. The bidding was incredibly nerve racking on that evening in August last year! But we persevered and we won!

It has only been one year since we closed on the property, but so much work had been put into the land. The Partnership Summit was a great opportunity to celebrate the HOP.

Volunteers from MO HIVES KC brought cornhole, honey sticks and donuts to the Partnership Summit.

As friends and partners gathered at the Summit to hear inspiring and hopeful words from the community panelists, we officially announced our goal of raising $250,000 to save the HOP. And we were also able to share that the Summit had already raised $10,000. What a great way to start the campaign! We are so grateful to everybody who made this happen. (If you didn't get a chance to join us, you can still contribute by texting "NeedNature" to 44-321 and help us save this beautiful urban forest.)

The theme of our Annual Summit this year - Nature is Essential - will be carried through with the campaign in the year ahead. Humans need nature, now more than ever, was the resounding message echoed by each and every one of our wonderful panelists. We heard from Jonathan who shared how nature is threatened from illegal dumping and how access is limited to some members of our community. Maglai shared how nature had healed her mental well being. We heard from parks leaders that our area parks have been bursting at the seams with people getting outside during the COVID quarantine. Our Board president Matt reflected on how nature means connecting to people we love. Jellie challenged all of us to speak up and Roosevelt encouraged us to slow down. Humans are nature, our emcee Carl Stafford reminded us.

Jellie Duckworth, Matt Davis and Roosevelt D. Lyons brought the day to a close with their calls to action.

Long-term plans for the property include restoring the forest as outlined in the Blue River Action Plan. HCA will work with partners to restore the woodland area by removing invasive plants such as bush honeysuckle and cleaning up the trash dumped illegally on the property. We will also work with Urban Trail Co. to design trails for hiking and biking on the property.

“This is a key connector for more than 60 miles of trails along the Blue River,” explained Zac Loehr, a trail manager with Urban Trail Co. “The Blue River and the land adjacent to it provide an amazing natural corridor that runs right through our city, and trails give us access to enjoy and experience this natural corridor.”

HCA has taken a few first steps of restoring and reconnecting to the land by partnering with Exploring Roots to begin clearing a trail, removing invasive honeysuckle and planning outdoor events on the site. We also met our new neighbors with a door-to-door campaign to learn about the history of the area and listen to the concerns people have for the land. We formally acknowledged the Indigenous people who once called this territory home - the HOP is the traditional territory of the Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo), the Osage, the Kaw (Kansa) and the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Sioux.) This acknowledgement begins a journey in learning how we can disrupt and dismantle colonialism beyond this territory acknowledgement. We hope Alliance members will join us as we explore our local Indigenous nations or organizations to build relationships and support their work.

From our hearts, we thank all who have supported the launch of the campaign and the success of our Annual Summit. We wish to extend a special thank you to all our Partnership Fair Exhibitors and Community Panelists, including the gracious emcee, Carl Stafford of MY REGION WINS! and our exhibitors MO Hives, Hoxie Collective, Clement Waters, KC Water, Missouri Stream Team, Healthy Rivers Partnership, Urban Trail Co, and Exploring Roots. They braved the winds all day and were truly the heart of the event.

And a thank you for all you donated and attended this weekend! Though the weather was chilly, the day was warmed by each and every one of you. We look ahead, hopeful and inspired, to many more events at the HOP.

We hope you had as much fun as our board member, Kristen Bontrager.

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