Friends of the Kaw receives grant to restore native trees and plants along river, reduce pollution

photo by: Mike Yoder

The northern bank of the Kansas River in Lawrence is pictured July 2, 2018. A local preservation project will restore native plants to an approximately 1-mile stretch of land along the river, beginning just uphill from the area pictured.

To help rid the waterway of pollution, a local preservation group will be bringing native trees such as cottonwoods and pawpaws back to the banks of the Kansas River.

Friends of the Kaw, a nonprofit preservation and advocacy group, was recently awarded a nearly $78,000 Douglas County Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant to help restore native tree and plant species to an approximately 1-mile stretch of land along the river. Friends of the Kaw Riverkeeper Dawn Buehler said those plants’ deep root systems protect against erosion and help filter pollutants out of stormwater before it reaches the river.

“We have to find ways to protect that water resource, and this is a really ecological and natural way to protect the water supply,” Buehler said.

The Kansas River is a primary source of drinking water for about 800,000 people in northeastern Kansas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The river’s watershed covers parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, and water quality concerns related to excessive nutrients, bacteria and sediment concentrations have been identified in the waterway.

Buehler said that the upland vegetated areas along a river, known as the riparian buffer, should be as wide as the river itself and are the river’s last line of defense against pollutants. She said restoring deep-rooted native plants to the buffer is especially important because of the large number of people, including Lawrence residents, who rely on the river as a source of drinking water. In addition, she said no one wants to do recreational activities on a dirty waterway.

But before the native trees and plants can be restored, invasive non-native species will have to be removed.

photo by: contribued photo

Invasive plants, including winter creeper and vinca vine, are pictured near the northern bank of the Kansas River in Lawrence.

Friends of the Kaw has partnered with Courtney Masterson, an ecologist and owner of Native Lands LLC, to restore native species to the buffer area. Native Lands and volunteers will remove invasive plants such as winter creeper, vinca vine and Japanese honeysuckle vines and shrubs, according to Masterson. She said those invasive species make up the majority of the forest floor and keep the seeds of native plant species from germinating and growing. Once removed, Masterson said native trees such as cottonwood, bur oak, pawpaw and buckeye, as well as wild grasses and flowers such as bottlebrush rye and red columbine, will be planted.

Specifically, the group will restore native plants to an area of land just north of the river that is also home to the city of Lawrence’s Kansas River trails, according to Buehler. She said project participants and volunteers will begin near the trailhead, accessible from Eighth Street in North Lawrence, and will continue east along the river for at least a mile. The Friends of the Kaw group is also partnering with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, Lawrence Mountain Bike Club, Westar Energy’s Green Team and the Kansas Forest Service on the project.

In addition to restoration of the buffer, the project will include educational components. Friends of the Kaw will provide the public with free educational paddle trips, which will share information about riparian buffers’ importance to water quality. The group will also provide curriculum for students through its Kids About Water program. Buehler said the weeklong curriculum lets students test water for common pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus. The program is done in coordination with science teachers at Free State and Lawrence high schools, and will potentially include other schools in Douglas County.

Buehler said the project will rely on volunteer help throughout the two-year term of the grant, and that Friends of the Kaw will kick off the project Sept. 8 with a community paddle trip from Lawrence to Eudora. She said planning and preparations for the project will occur throughout the summer, and volunteers are needed for removal of invasive species and subsequent planting. Removal will occur in the fall and winter and planting will begin in the spring, she said.

Those interested in volunteering to help with the project can do so on the Friends of the Kaw website,


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