With an eye toward future improvements on the Kansas River, Friends of the Kaw group cleans up sandbar

photo by: Submitted photo

A Friends of the Kaw cleanup crew inspects a large piece of scrap metal on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, along the Kansas River.

A small group of nature lovers spent Saturday morning cleaning up a sandbar in the Kansas River in hopes that more people can enjoy the river’s natural beauty in the future.

Kansas Riverkeeper Dawn Buehler, who leads the Friends of the Kaw advocacy group, said about 10 members of the group turned out to clean junk and scrap metal from a sandbar just below the Bowersock Dam. Buehler said a lot of the metal they cleaned up was bits of scrap from the explosion four decades ago that was used to demolish the old Kansas River bridge.

“They just brought the whole thing down in the river,” Buehler said. “They don’t do that anymore.”

Saturday’s cleanup took advantage of the Kaw’s current low state, which Buehler said was caused by the dry fall weather and work on Tuttle Creek Dam that has shut down outflow from the state’s largest reservoir. Maintenance is currently being done on the Bowersock Dam, and a temporary causeway to the sandbar has been created for that work. That allowed the Friends of the Kaw to get to the site and clean it up, Buehler said.

At Saturday’s cleanup event, the Friends of the Kaw put the smaller pieces of metal in piles that Buehler said contractor Kissick Construction has agreed to haul off. Kissick has also agreed to dig out and remove some larger pieces that the cleanup crew couldn’t get out on its own, some of which are buried in the sand. The crew marked these ones with orange spray paint.

photo by: Submitted photo

A pile of junk and scrap metal the Friends of the Kaw gathered Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, just below the Bowersock Dam is ready to be removed.

Buehler said the cleanup was motivated in part by some talk at City Hall about new amenities possibly being installed along the Kaw — which might include such things as a trail, fishing spots and kayaking features. As the Journal-World previously reported, these ideas are still in the early stages; the city doesn’t yet have a cost estimate for any new amenities along the river, and it doesn’t have specific money set aside for it. But city staff wants to get a special use permit from the planning commission and the City Commission in case the city wanted to pursue grant funding for recreational projects on the Kaw.

Sarah Hill-Nelson, who leads the Bowersock Power & Mills Company along with her father, Stephen Hill, fully supports the idea of adding amenities and improving access to the river.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “My father is an outdoorsman. He’s all in. The Kansas River belongs to the people. Can you imagine when there are people enjoying a walk by the river, viewing eagles, fishing and kayaking?”

The Friends of the Kaw is excited about the prospect of new amenities for the same reason, Buehler said.

“We want to increase recreational access to a great natural resource,” she said. “But we also know the more people use the river, the more they will take an interest and an active role in protecting it.”

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