Note: The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I first engaged with the Blue River through hiking and volunteering at the Blue River Glades, adjacent to Swope Park along Blue River Road. Harmony in a World of Difference used the glades as a place to teach kids about human diversity via the lens of biological diversity. Shortly after, as a founding leader of Kansas City WildLands, my connection with the Blue River corridor broadened as WildLands adopted several sites along the river for restoration to their native character. One of my favorite memories is of a WildLands workday when we planted 500 bottomland trees and shrubs in one day in the corridor south of Minor Park.
When the Missouri Department of Conservation identified the Blue River Conservation Area as a place of priority conservation concern, WildLands led the extensive convening to map out a long term plan for its conservation and restoration. HCA was born of this effort when it became clear that there needed to be an organization to carry forward the planning that was done among stakeholders. I was lucky enough to be involved in awarding HCA it’s first grants, which allowed it to launch. Certainly a highlight of my career.
My favorite time to go out and enjoy and relax by the river is in the fall and winter. At Blue River and Rocky Point Glades, you can see all of the Bethany Falls geological outcroppings, and the gorgeous structure of the old chinquapin and other oaks on the glades. The hickories and the grasses turn a thousand shades of gold! Our only wedding photo was taken sitting in a 250+ year old Chinquapin Oak, hanging over the edge of one of the cliffs on Blue River Glade. Of course, there’s nothing like warm rocks on the glades or next to the river for winter napping!
The river and these natural areas are somewhat “invisible” and it's hard to know it's there, because you could drive over or by them, and not know it. My personal view is that you can't care about something in the abstract. Having an intimate relationship with the river calls people to action. More than anything, the people who already use and protect the Blue River need to get other people outside to inspire them. It is much more meaningful to let them have an experience than to lecture them about it. They need the Blue River experience. They need to walk there, to feel it, sense it - the majesty and the smells in the glades and the stream and river valleys. It's never too late for anyone to get outside but it's much richer when someone has had great early childhood experiences. Let's get EVERYONE outside and let's make it as accessible as possible!