Marie Thompson said she knows many Lawrence residents prefer to avoid the Kansas River, though it flows just north of the city's popular downtown.
"A lot of people don't come down to the water because they feel creeped out," Thompson said.
Thompson, though, is trying to build momentum for a project to clean up at least a portion of the river - by using art.
Thompson, a Leavenworth artist and a member of the Lawrence Art Guild, envisions turning a narrow dirt trail that connects Burcham Park and Constant Park into an improved sculpture trail featuring art works that can double as wildlife habitat.
"I think it is a very elegant idea," said Baldwin sculptor Matt Kirby, one of several artists who have expressed support for the project. "I think it will be very neat to go into an environment that is a little bit wild and then find human-made structures that are meant to interact with the environment."
The idea is working its way through Lawrence City Hall. City commissioners have asked the Lawrence Arts Commission and the Parks and Recreation Department to look at the proposal and make a formal recommendation. Thompson said the city has a lot to gain from the idea. Constant Park is just north of downtown, near Sixth and Kentucky streets, and Burcham Park is near Third and Indiana streets in the historic Pinckney Neighborhood.
"I think it could be a great resource," Thompson said. "If you are visiting town, I think you would like to do something on the river. You just have to make it inviting."
Thompson also is not asking for any city money. Instead, she hopes to do much of the trail work with volunteer labor. She currently is working to take advantage of a unique Westar Energy program that provides such help for public projects that create interaction with the environment.
Brad Loveless, a biologist with the Topeka-based utility, said about 30 Westar employees and retirees do such projects as a hobby. Westar allows the use of some of their equipment on the projects.
"We're interested in it because it is a beautiful area down there, but it is not very accessible and there's nothing to draw people there and make them feel safe," Loveless said.
Thompson, though, will undertake fundraising to help cover expenses and pay artists selected for the project. She said she hopes to have the first piece of art in place by the end of the year to generate fundraising interest for future works.
Kirby - who has done several pieces for the area surrounding the Kansas Speedway - has committed to do the first piece. But he said it will be different from traditional works because all pieces must also serve as wildlife habitat.
He plans to use leftover concrete from a local concrete plant to create uniquely shaped objects that will be placed along the riverbank. The concrete blocks would help stabilize the riverbank and also provide new habitat for a variety of animals.