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Just how a river stole my heart

By Jill Erickson

I didn't find the Blue River; she found me. I was like you - I had lived in this city a long time and never knew how many creeks and streams flow around us, beneath us, and all around us. I certainly had never found a trail along one and had never heard of the Blue River. Why would I have?

That all changed when people who did know the river and who had worked for years as stewards took me to see her.

They taught me to understand her and I began to develop a sense of my relationship with nature in a way that was always there, but I had been clueless. Thank you to those who taught me how the river supports so much life including crayfish, fish, ducks, herons, kingfishers, geese, raccoons, beavers and teeny tiny macro invertebrates. Thank you for showing me how unique the rocks in our city are and how very unique flowers and plants live on these glades and outcroppings and overlooks along the river. Thank you for taking me on a picnic, a hike and paddling on a conservation area lake.

According to a 2012 Mid-America Regional Council water quality survey, only nine percent of area residents know that they live in a watershed. People do not typically see the Blue River as a destination for respite and recreation. Once people know about this beautiful free place to play they will start to consider how to care for it.

Thank you for inviting me to volunteer and thank you for showing me that I could actually make a difference by picking up trash and by killing invasive bush honeysuckle. Many thanks to the kind and patient people who showed me how to camp and find where flowers bloom in the forest only in the spring. Thank you to the courageous people who were role models and showed me how city rules and federal laws can protect or can harm rivers. Thank you for teaching me what to do about a bug bite or poison ivy. Thank you for loaning me books, giving me plants, traveling to conferences with me, and even giving me a job.

Everyday heroes in our community showed me how to be brave in a boat on the Mighty

The Blue River watershed is the largest in the city, covering 270 square miles and acting as home to half a million people.

Missouri River, how to find a levee where the Blue River flows into the Missouri River, how to grow organic food, how to identify a tree and how to see the night sky from a wildlife refuge. I am a city kid who grew up not connected to any of these before someone showed me.

Thank you for helping to start a conservation alliance, a beautiful, dynamic, evolving collaboration of all of these mentors and so many others called Heartland Conservation Alliance. Thank you for your gifts, for volunteering, for advising and supporting.

Over the past ten years, these people were showing me how they love and care for nature in our city, but really they were loving and caring for all of us. I discovered how much I need nature and how much it gives to me. You see, the river and nature have always been right here. But I only learned how to really connect when I connected with others. This week I am deeply thankful for so many mentors and I willing in gave my heart to this cause.

Thank you for showing me how to inspire and share with others, like my own children. I welcome each one of you to connect with the wonder and awe that nature has in store for you. Trust me when I say that YOU are wanted and you are needed. The Blue River will steal your heart, too. And it is so worth it!

With the skill and support of long-time supporters, I ventured out for the first time in a canoe on the Blue River in 2017. The canoe trip was part of a multi-year project to create the Blue River documentary that was completed in 2019.

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