The Kansas Land Trust Joins Blue River Conservation Collaborative

On the southern edge of the Kansas City metro area, a stream called the Blue River runs right through the heart of Johnson County, Kansas, flows northeast into Missouri, and ends when it joins the Missouri River. Like most urban watersheds, much of the Blue River suffers from poor water quality and flooding issues.

Fortunately, a collaborative of more than a dozen Kansas government agencies and non-profits, including the Kansas Land Trust, have recently joined forces to form The Blue River Conservation Collaborative. The goal of the collaborative is to preserve lands around portions of this under-appreciated watershed with the hopes of mitigating the challenges it currently faces.

The Blue River runs through the Kansas Land Trust’s Blair conservation easement in southern Johnson County.

The Blue River runs through the Kansas Land Trust’s Blair conservation easement in southern Johnson County.

The Conservation Fund, a national environmental non-profit, organized The Blue River Conservation Collaborative, after completing a study of the Blue River that found approximately 3,000 acres of undeveloped land with strong conservation potential near the upper portion of the stream in southern Johnson County.

“These places look like they would be good candidates for protection because they are either in a flood plain, or are lands that have high hydric soil content, which means that water sinks down into land instead of running off into the river and downstream,” said Ginny Moore, Midwest Field Representative for The Conservation Fund.

Moore said that keeping these 3,000 acres of land undeveloped would reduce flooding in the future and help to improve the Blue River’s water quality. The majority of the land is privately owned, so the collaborative would like to work with willing landowners to preserve as much of it as possible through a combination of land purchase and conservation easements.  Conservation easements allow the land to remain privately owned but protected from development.

A section of the Blue River running through the Kansas Land Trust’s Stueck conservation easement in southern Johnson County.

A section of the Blue River running through the Kansas Land Trust’s Stueck conservation easement in southern Johnson County.

“The Johnson County Parks and Recreation District is very interested because they have an impressive trail system along many of the streams in Johnson County,” Moore said. “And some of the parcels that we found are actually lands that they would like to own at some point to build out that trail system and provide additional trail access points.”

 In addition to the Kansas Land Trust, two other land trusts are participating in the Blue River Conservation Collaborative: The Nature Conservancy and Heartland Conservation Alliance.  Moore said that the collaborative is looking to the Kansas Land Trust to help establish conservation easements for the project.

“The Kansas Land Trust has so much experience doing this kind of land protection work, and they also already have a couple of conservation easements on land in this very area that we are talking about,” Moore said. “It just made a lot of sense for them to be a good partner in this project.”

Although The Conservation Fund and Johnson County have some funding in place to get the Blue River conservation project off the ground, the collaborative is also currently working on a proposal for a $3.5 million grant from the federal USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Ginny Moore and Jerry Jost presenting the Blue River Conservation Collaborative to Senator Moran and other state agencies during Moran’s conservation tour in September.

Ginny Moore and Jerry Jost presenting the Blue River Conservation Collaborative to Senator Moran and other state agencies during Moran’s conservation tour in September.

 During U.S. Senator Jerry Moran’s recent conservation tour, the Blue River Conservation Collaborative had the opportunity to present the scope and goals of the project to Senator Moran and other state agencies in hopes of garnering support for the project.

“It was a great opportunity to be able to get in front of Senator Moran as well as NRCS State Conservationist Karen Woodrich and various state agencies,” Moore said. “We got some very positive feedback from all of them.”

 Moore said they are also looking at other federal funding programs and doing some local fundraising in the metropolitan area to support this project.

 “We have ready partners, a strategic plan, and an urgent need to protect land in a rapidly growing county,” said Moore.  “Conservation efforts along the Blue River corridor will benefit our communities that depend on this water; support our agricultural heritage, economy and the local food movement; and provide increased public access to recreation, all as a part of a larger regional effort. The RCPP funds would be a catalyst to implementing this vision.”