Search for new coordinator will delay Douglas County’s natural and cultural heritage grant program this year

photo by: Journal-World

The west side of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 23, 2021.

An annual grant program that awarded $200,000 last year for natural and cultural heritage projects in Douglas County will be delayed this year while the Heritage Conservation Council searches for a new leader to manage it.

Usually, grant guidelines and application materials for the council’s Natural and Cultural Grant program are released in early January, and grant recipients are decided before the end of April. Last year, the HCC gave funding to nine projects through the grant program, ranging from prairie restoration to documenting letters from the first students to attend the Haskell Institute — the boarding school for Native American children that eventually became Haskell Indian Nations University.

But this year, the council decided to delay the start of the grant program, HCC chair Jenny Trucano Muller told the Journal-World this past week. That’s because the position that manages it — the heritage coordinator — is now vacant. The previous coordinator, Kaitlin Stanley, announced before the holidays that she planned to resign at the end of 2022 to take the executive director position at the nonprofit Kansas Land Trust.

“We as a volunteer council can’t do some things like initiate payments on behalf of the county, so we just really need to have a county employee in place to run that process for us,” Trucano Muller told the Journal-World on Thursday.

Stanley spent less than a year in the position. She joined the HCC in early 2022, replacing longtime HCC leader Jan Shupert-Arick, who had retired.

Now, Trucano Muller and HCC vice chair Nicholaus Pumphrey are working closely with the county to search for Stanley’s replacement. Trucano Muller said interviews started over the past week and will continue into this week, and there’s also the potential that there might be more than one round of interviews.

“Together, we’ve identified the key skills and experience we think the next coordinator will need to help us promote conservation of our county’s wonderful natural and cultural resources,” Trucano Muller said.

In particular, she said the council was looking for more than just a grant facilitator. She said the council wanted a leader who, first and foremost, would be a “great ambassador” for the county’s natural and cultural resources. That means finding someone who can work with folks throughout the county to make HCC initiatives like the grant program and surveys of historic areas successful.

Trucano Muller also said the new leader should be committed to making the county’s heritage work more inclusive, particularly by amplifying stories that have typically been excluded from the county’s history.

The council anticipates that the new coordinator will start in March, which could push back the tentative grant program launch date of March 1 that’s currently listed on Douglas County’s website. But Trucano Muller said Stanley left a “great roadmap” and helpful documentation on how the program works.

Once the new coordinator is selected and the grant process begins, it will look a little bit different than in past years. This year’s available grant funding includes an additional $75,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds just for open space-related projects, which is part of the council’s desire to support more projects involving nature. The council in recent years has focused more on cultural and historical resources like nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, but Trucano Muller said county leaders were eager for the council to dedicate more attention to open space planning and other similar projects in 2023.

One of last year’s grant recipients was a Kansas Biological Survey inventory of native hay meadows around the county, and Trucano Muller said it would be great to see more projects like that to map out the natural resources in the county.

“Every time we get the (grant) applications, I’m always just tickled to see the variety of cool things that are happening around the county that wouldn’t have even occurred to me,” Trucano Muller said.

The search for a coordinator won’t delay other ongoing projects, like an effort to craft an Open Space Plan in partnership with county zoning and sustainability officials; Trucano Muller said council member Patti Beedles is representing the HCC on that planning team. She also said that an intensive survey of historical resources in downtown Baldwin City would go on as planned.


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