An event this week discussing an idea to preserve the Kansas River while also using it to attract more tourists will kick-off a month full of Smart Growth activities.
Ecological tourism will be the featured subject of Riverfest, a public information fair about the Kansas River to be conducted from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at Burcham Park, along the south bank of the Kansas River northwest of downtown.
Lance Burr, vice president of Friends of the Kaw, will talk at 5:30 p.m. about why Kansas may be missing out on economic development by not promoting the use of its rivers for recreation.
Missouri and Arkansas each have river businesses that generate an estimated $50 million a year in tourism, Burr said.
"Missouri rivers are pretty neat, but when you go out on the Kansas River and see the sun come up and see all that sand and those banks, it is just beautiful," Burr said. "Missouri rivers don't have all those sand beaches that you can stop and play at. It's just very peaceful and relaxing, and it would be a big draw to a lot of people who are looking for peace and relaxation."
Burr said he'd also tell Sunday's crowd that there are at least three major challenges the state must overcome before it can tap into the river's tourism potential:
l Public access. The Kaw has only three legal public access points along its 171 miles.
"It's the largest recreational corridor in the state, no matter how you measure it," Burr said. "It's bigger than all the lakes combined, but we just don't have very good access to it."
Burr said a 1996 study estimated that the Kansas River could generate $3 million a year in tourism revenue, if the river had more access points.
l Pollution. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has posted warnings about river swimming and eating fish caught from the Kaw due to high levels of pollution in certain stretches of the river, which in turn has created a negative perception with potential tourists.
l Dredging. Burr argues that large-scale dredging operations between DeSoto and the Kansas City area are removing one of the river's biggest draws.
"That river has more sand beaches than some parts of California," Burr said. "It is just beautiful, but we have to stop them from dredging it all out."
-- Staff writer Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-7190.