By Sarah Benal
On Saturday, June 25 small businesses, nonprofits and neighborhood leaders gathered at the Kessler Park Collonade to engage neighbors in an ongoing project from Kansas City Parks and Recreation. Located at Chestnut Trafficway and Cliff Drive, Kessler Park suffers from a variety of neglect, trash and invasive species. Led by Hoxie Collective, partners involved in the Kessler Park Plan hope to address these concerns. The most influential voices behind the project are the neighborhood leaders around the area, who asking everyone who enjoys the park to engage with the Kessler Park Plan to improve the landscape and address social and environmental issues in the park.
Many parks in Kansas City do not have prioritized holistic improvement plans. Now there’s an opportunity to look at the assets and challenges in the parks today and find ways to improve them for the future. For Kessler Park, it includes an operation and maintenance plan, a conservation plan and a connectivity plan.
“Too few resources have been dedicated to keeping Kessler Park a vibrant, safe place for Kansas City to enjoy. Cliff Drive is crumbling as is the Colonnade. Garbage litters the trails and forested areas. Transient and houseless camps have become the new normal. The park is badly neglected and needs proper funding and maintenance, “ explained Scott Hale, President of the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood.
Kessler Park contains one of the few registered, historic scenic byways in the country, which is a precious ecosystem itself, and large enough to provide the space for people in the city looking for solitude and relaxation. The park also serves as a location for large community gatherings such as disc golf tournaments and organized events. It combines the urban experience, rugged natural beauty and historic architecture, but needs some caretaking to maintain its quality. Regan Tokos, community planner at Hoxie Collective, explains that the hope is the Kessler Park Plan will be a community process that listens to residents and park users about what they want to see in their community. Christopher Lowrance, an Indian Mound neighborhood resident, believes the effort is worthwhile.
“The Northeast is an incredibly diverse area,” says Lowrance. “People with very different backgrounds use the park, and I’d love to hear their ideas for the plan. Anyone in the region who cares about history and the environment should participate.”
He also notes the need for innovative thinkers, and that a lot of the issues in the park don’t have easy solutions, such as Cliff Drive and the question of whether or not to allow cars. Linda Fleischman, the Communications Chair for Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association, lists Cliff Drive as an important issue, but it’s complicated by the fact that each answer to the issue and its opposite are valid, so compromise is in order.
Kessler Park also faces environmental issues such as illegal dumping and invasive plant species, which have caused erosion and tree and species loss. A weekly clean-up hosted by the KC Parks Ambassadors takes place at Indian Mound Lookout, but even after more than a year of consistent work the area still contains piles of trash.
“We need solutions rather than conversations. It’s time to put a viable and most important ‘fundable’ plan into action. The takeaway needs to put pressure on City agencies to properly fund and maintain our park,” said Hale.
Communities around Kessler Park have often heard about small ideas for the park’s improvement, but plans need to seek to address bigger problems like safety and environmental issues to make more progress over time. The Kessler Park Plan would coordinate and focus efforts, and will help realize the long-term goals for the park. Fleischman emphasized the need for compromise, as well as the importance of action from those who live immediately adjacent to the park.
“It’s one thing to dream big,” says Fleischman, “but the rubber must meet the road for our dreams of what Kessler Park can be to come true. We must work together for it.”
An important way to get involved is to take the Kessler Park Planning Survey, which is open to anyone looking to provide input on the future of the park. Those interested, especially those in the neighborhoods around Kessler Park, are also encouraged to attend community meetings. In the coming weeks, Hoxie Collective will host community meetings, as well as provide guidance and leadership for those looking to host focus groups with their neighbors or become a community liaison.
“We are looking for residents who are embedded in their communities, especially if those communities are hard to reach,” explained Tokos. They’re especially looking for people connected to the diverse refugee and immigrant communities in the Historic Northeast. Fleishman advises that one of the best ways to support the project is to keep talking about it. Get involved in the conservation, and volunteer to make it a better place. Lowrance agrees.
“I don’t know that it’s a message we hear often enough: coming together with other people specifically to care for a natural resource is one of the most meaningful things for people to do,” said Lowrance.
If you’re interested in leading a focus group or becoming a liaison, reach out to Christina Hoxie by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get involved with one of the partners engaged with the project such as NEKC Chamber of Commerce, The Kansas City Museum, Urban Trail Co., Deep Roots, Bridging the Gap, RoKC, leaders from the Disc Golf community, and so many other partners, including Heartland Conservation Alliance.