County leaders approve grant to help preserve 135-acre farm surrounding Wells Overlook

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The University of Kansas appears on the horizon looking north Thursday, May 6, 2021, from Wells Overlook Park.

Those who climb the stairs of the wooden tower at Wells Overlook Park currently look out across picturesque farmland and open space, and county leaders say that’s a view worth preserving.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission voted unanimously to approve $200,000 in grants as part of the 2021 Natural & Cultural Grant Program. The largest grant, for about $60,000, will go toward conserving Wells Farm, a 135-acre farm that surrounds Wells Overlook Park.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he thought using part of the grant funding to preserve green space was an appropriate use.

“I think as we continue to think about the pressures we have in the unincorporated areas, and maintaining the landscape and just the beauty of that area, this is a way that we can do it,” Kelly said.

The project has the goal of preserving the natural and scenic buffer around Wells Overlook Park, according to a project summary. Ken Lassman, a member of the family that years ago donated the land for the park, and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg will donate a 135-acre conservation easement, known as Wells Farm, to the Kansas Land Trust. The summary states that Wells Farm is a Farm Bureau Century Farm, meaning it has been continuously owned by a single family for 100 years or more, that is characterized by hedge rows and small fields characteristic of early farming practices in the county, a pond built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Wells Mound, native vegetation and native habitat restoration projects.

The 16-acre park, which sits on a hill off North 1000 Road just east of U.S. Highway 59, includes a picnic area, a short hiking trail and a wooden tower that provides views over the Wakarusa River valley and Lawrence. William Wells donated Wells Park to Douglas County in 1971, according to the county’s website.

The view from the tower at Wells Overlook south of Lawrence
provides a vista of the Wakarusa River valley.

Heritage Conservation Coordinator Jan Shupert-Arick told the commission that the Heritage Conservation Council reviewed 14 grant applications totaling more than $400,000 in requests and arrived at its recommendations after presentations from the applicants and dozens of hours of evaluation.

HCC Chair Mike Delaney said the council acknowledged that the project took up a significant amount of this year’s funding, but that council members were unanimous about the importance of the project. Delaney said ensuring that 30 or 40 years from now people who stand on the overlook will be able to see the same vista they see today was an opportunity that couldn’t be lost.

“The idea that the property that surrounds the Wells Overlook might someday be subdivided into 30 ranchettes just seemed so inappropriate for an irreplaceable asset like the county’s parkland there, the overlook itself,” Delaney said.

As part of its meeting, the County Commission voted to confirm the council’s recommendation to fund the Wells Farm conservation project, as well as 12 other projects. The Kansas Land Trust requested $69,600 for the project, and the commission agreed with the council’s recommendation to award the project $59,400. Delaney explained that the funds would go toward the enforcement of the conservation easements that will run with the land. He said the Land Trust would protect the land to make sure that the easements prohibiting the land from being developed are enforced in perpetuity.

Kelly added that it’s tough to set aside funds to preserve land, and he thinks the county should continue to work with the Land Trust regarding preservation of green space.

The next three highest awards were $35,000 for a pollinator project at the Mutt Run Dog Park, submitted by the University of Kansas Center for Research and the City of Lawrence; $30,000 for exterior brick rehabilitation on the towers of St. Luke AME Church; and $15,000 for the community history anthology “Embattled Lawrence Vol. 3,” submitted by the Douglas County Historical Society. Other projects include Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery’s tombstone restoration project, Vinland Cemetery Sesquicentennial Project, and the Good Morning Indian Country program hosted by the Lawrence Arts Center.


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