In August 2009 I stepped down from the podium after sharing a presentation with the Sierra Club about Conservation Opportunity Areas and was met by a warm smile and fierce pair of brown eyes. It was Connie Chapman and her husband Mike. She wanted to know more about conservation in the city because she had been fighting to save some ecologically important undeveloped land in the headwaters of the Blue River. The results of that meeting are still creating ripples in our community.
The vision seemed so simple back then. Let’s get everyone together who is working to protect nature in our region, consolidate our plans and combine forces and make something happen. For two years, our small group planned and learned; we met and interviewed those partners in offices, coffee shops, and dining rooms. We asked what was happening and what needed to happen. We built friendships and we built alliances. We tried to find a home for our project, an urban land trust, but in the end we realized it was bigger than any of us and it was new. This collective impact initiative needed its own space.
We held an inaugural event in December 2010 at Mike and Connie’s home giving tours of the land and letting its beauty tell the story and make the case for the need for urban conservation. We shared food and drinks and dreams and hopes that night. We decided to focus our resources and work on the Blue River Watershed. We formerly announced the concept to the greater Kansas City community in February 2010 at Mid-America Regional Council’s MetroGreen Forum. We knew we needed more people to make this happen and we created an advisory group and our first formal Steering Committee met in February 2011. At that meeting we decided to apply to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Urban Waters program for funding. The following year, in February 2012, after creating a board and defining our conservation focus and strategy, we became a 501c3 organization. We identified three key initiatives to full our mission of protecting places we love: convening our partners, connecting people to nature, and conserving land.
Today, we have received more than half a million dollars in new conservation funding, grown our Board from three to six; grown our Alliance to more than 35 members; and formalized our partnership structure with a Steering Council, Conservation Work Group, Education and Outreach Work Group, and Partnership Work Group. We employ a full-time Program Director, a Partnership Coordinator, and are about to hire a new Project Manager. In 2014, we held our first Partnership Summit, launched our new brand, and completed our conservation strategy plan. This year, we launch our new Green Guard Stewardship training program and have begun to meet our goal to conserve 2,000 acres in the Blue River Watershed by 2020. We continue to co-lead the Middle Blue River Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a national program connecting people to nature and restoring rivers in cities. See a full list of our 2015 accomplishments.
After eight years of tireless work, Connie has stepped down from our Board of Directors. We are a little lost without her, but her legacy lives on in our hearts and the organization she founded. We are proud of her vision and look forward to the future for all the work we will accomplish. Together across all boundaries we will save our valuable resources—the things we care about, our natural, historic and cultural resources.