Getting more people in touch with the Kansas River may be the key to its survival.
It's often said that, in the modern world, as our traditional ties to rural agriculture have been broken, too many children -- and even their families -- have little idea where food comes from.
The same seems to be true of our sources of clean water. Food, for most of us, comes from the grocery store, and clean water comes from a faucet. That's all we need or want to know.
Raising our awareness of the vital need to protect our water resources probably is part of the motivation for current efforts to increase Kansans' access to the Kansas River, which flows through Lawrence.
Turning on a water faucet isn't a particularly emotional moment. But experiencing the river that supplies that water by fishing in it, floating on it or watching its wildlife helps forge a bond between the people and the river. It helps us understand the connection between the river and the water that runs out of the tap.
The Kansas River is an important source of water for a number of Kansas communities. It also has recreational potential that some residents and state officials think could be increased. Specifically, former Gov. Mike Hayden, who now serves as secretary of Wildlife and Parks, would like to increase the number of public access points to the river.
One bill that would have made that possible was defeated this year by concerns for owners of private property along the river. It's important that these property owners not suffer damage because of river accesses, but, as Hayden aptly points out, the river belongs to all Kansans, not just those who own property along it.
There are only five paved public access points to the river between Junction City and Kansas City, Kan. That means that many people who visit the river already are doing so by traversing private property. Providing easier access at selected points along the river's length might actually decrease unauthorized access at other points.
Increasing recreational use of the river should give people a better idea of the condition of this important resource. It's one thing to talk about the Kaw being "endangered," but that threat becomes far more real when people actually visit the river and view the condition of the water and the surrounding area.
People just naturally are going to have more respect for the Kansas River if they know more about it. They're more likely to care for a friend than a stranger. That's the kind of care the river will need if it is to be preserved as a water source and recreation site for future generations.