On Saturday September 30, Heartland Conservation Alliance will host the first ever Blue River Discovery Days Festival at Minor Park. The Festival is the culmination of a month-long fundraising event that strives to bring attention to the beauty, issues, and needs of Kansas City’s Blue River, while also raising funds for HCA’s Blue River Nature Guide Program. The Festival is from 10am – 3pm, open to all, and will consist of a variety of activities, both nature-based and simply occurring near nature. The event is free and guests can explore macroinvertebrates, take a bike ride along the trails, join a yoga class, or experience one of the Blue River Nature Guide guided hikes.
Regan Tokos, HCA Board Member and the lead planner for the event explained that HCA is involved in a lot, but at the core HCA wants to bring people to the Blue River. “We wanted to create an event and fundraiser that…highlights the many ways you can connect with the river to remind people how lucky we are to have this urban river right here,” she said.
HCA hopes to remind people of the Blue River through the The Blue River Nature Guide Program, a series of nature experiences throughout the Blue River watershed that actually bring Kansas Citians closer to the water through walking, hiking, biking, or even kayaking. Gilbert Randolph is one of the activity leads at the Festival. He’s a writer, amateur naturalist and a self-proclaimed major fan of the Blue River river system.
“The ‘see but don’t touch,’ model for interacting with nature will never lead to deep, meaningful connections to the natural places and ecosystems around us,” Randolph said. “It’s my hope that you will come to the event and get dirty, find a crayfish, climb a tree, see some wildlife and leave inspired to come back to hike, forage, bird watch, even participate in one of the managed deer hunts offered in the Blue River. This park is your land, set aside to enrich your life!”
Randolph will be leading a “hunting and foraging display” at Minor Park, which will showcase a number of “artifacts” representative of the Blue River corridor – including furs, wild edibles, and maybe even a fossil or two.
“This watershed has a tremendous amount of biodiversity and its rich natural history is a whole world just waiting to be discovered. I encourage everyone to pick up and touch the different pieces displayed,” he said.
The Blue River is over 40 miles long, beginning at the Overland Park Arboretum and ending at the Missouri River. It touches the lives of communities in both Kansas and Missouri, but many aren’t aware it exists or the impact it has on daily life. The upper watershed, which runs from Wolf Creek to Indian Creek, is considered relatively healthy and supports diverse wildlife and habitat, but the health declines farther along the watershed due to urbanization and neglect.
“It may not be as big or dramatic of a river as the Missouri, but it also tells a story and shaped the history of Kansas City,” said Nova Clarke, the Visitor Services Manager – US Fish and Wildlife Service. Clarke will be offering lessons on how to kayak at the Festival. She encourages people to come even if they don’t have experience in outdoor recreation.
“The neat thing about discovering the Blue River is that you can tailor it to what you like to do – whether it is something more active and challenging like biking or just going somewhere and bird-watching or taking a casual stroll – the Blue River provides it all,” she said.
The Blue River Nature Guide Program hopes to bring increased attention to the river in the middle and lower watersheds, and subsequently increase access and address issues of inequitable outdoor education and recreation opportunities. Guided nature experiences are offered once each month, and take place across the watershed, offering people a closer look at the Blue River and learning from conservation and outdoor experts.
“It’s important to me that people have the opportunity to get outside and experience the river and learn both why it’s an amazing place to spend the day and the challenges facing the river,” said Tokos, “Every time we get to have that conversation with someone new, we create a new advocate for the river, and every new advocate gets us one step closer to improved water quality and improved access for everyone who wants to come out here.”
“Blue River Discovery Days” lasts throughout the month of September, and all are welcome to come and enjoy the Festival on September 30. The event is free and food will be available during the lunch hour. Those who are interested in participating in the fundraising can visit the Blue River Discovery Days page, and keep an eye on HCA’s Facebook and Instagram for updates on the Blue River Discovery Days Festival.