The Kansas Riverkeeper and a few volunteers will cast off on a nine-day canoe trip next month to chart the beauty and the problems of the 171-mile-long river.
"We will be documenting physical structures and areas in need of monitoring, cleanup and restoration," said riverkeeper Laura Calwell. She serves as a nongovernmental advocate for the river.
Calwell and her entourage will leave May 12 from Junction City and paddle their way to the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers in Kansas City, Kan.
Calwell has traveled the length of the river before but not all on one trip. She said she knows the problem sites that await, but those sites have never been adequately documented. She will be using a camera with an embedded Global Positioning System program for noting the location of a site, she said.
An especially troubling location along the river is a one-mile stretch near Maple Hill, west of Topeka, that was used as a dump for an estimated 500 industrial-size tires, Calwell said.
"Also in that section are some incredible attempts at stabilizing banks with old cars," she said. "You can no longer legally do that, and many of the attempts at stabilization, you can tell, are over 20 years old."
Calwell also will be checking locations where there are intakes for water supplies and power plants; outfalls for storm sewers, wastewater treatment and industrial facilities; and dredging operations.
"There are some miscellaneous pipes, which I question whether they are legal outfalls," Calwell said. "I'm going to be able to go back later and check on them."
Information from the study and charting of the river will be placed online at www.kansasriver.com.
Calwell thinks interest in using the river for recreation has increased during the past 10 years because of advocacy by the Friends of the Kaw, a nonprofit environmental organization that has taken on the mission to protect and preserve the river. Friends of the Kaw has worked with communities along the river for the development of several public access points, she said.
"You see a lot of activity there, with cars and trailers parked with canoe racks on top, so I know (the river) is getting used," she said.