Kansas River Water Trail Makes Department of Interior Top 100 List

The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative has been set in motion by President Obama as a way to advance conservation and recreation in the United States. The basic idea behind the initiative is that solutions for increasing conservation and recreation should come from our own communities versus being decided on solely by Washington.

To carry out the research process for the AGO, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar met with governors and stakeholders in each state this year to get ideas as to what conservation and recreation projects were important in their communities; the goal being that the federal government could partner with states to make these projects come to fruition. From those ideas two from each state were decided upon and listed in a 50-State Report. According to the report, the projects “…aim to reconnect Americans to the natural world through parks, trails, and rivers and to conserve and restore working lands and wildlife habitat. The projects will also create jobs through travel, tourism, and outdoor activities.”

For Kansas, these are the Kansas River Water Trail and The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area. In a press release from the Department of Interior, it is noted that “the Department could provide financial and technical assistance to increase access to the Kansas River. The Department could also provide technical and financial assistance to the state of Kansas toward construction of the Flint Hills Discovery Center, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Visitor Center, and campsite improvements.”

Laura Calwell, Riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw, said her nonprofit organization was delighted with the proposed Kansas River Water Trail. “Friends of the Kaw has helped Junction City, Ogden, St. George, Wamego, Topeka, De Soto, Edwardsville and Kansas City, Kansas add eleven access ramps to the Kansas River and we are currently working with the communities of Belvue and Shawnee on planned construction of two more ramps. We welcome additional funding for signage and improvements (like restrooms and picnic tables) at the access points” says Calwell.

“The Kansas River is the longest prairie river in the nation, and as a sand bed river, it is something pretty special,” she said. “The Kaw is a unique natural resource. If we develop this water trail right, it has the potential to provide something new and appealing for kayakers and canoers in the region – in the nation, really. This project is a great economic development opportunity.”

Calwell noted, though, that the Kansas River faces multiple threats, ranging from pollution by agricultural chemical run-off to in-river sand and gravel dredging. Currently, there is a proposal before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand dredging on the Kaw from 2.2 million tons to 3.2 million tons, an increase of almost 50%. Public comments are due to the USACE by December 9 and can be emailed to kale.e.horton@usace.army.mil.

“The Kansas River Water Trail is among the best potential conservation investments in the nation,” said Calwell. “Dredging will harm this investment, not maximize it.”

By Christina Glauner

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