By Abby Hoover
Last week, Kansas City Parks and Recreation crews from districts all over the city converged on the reservoir at Kessler Park in Historic Northeast.
KC Parks QLID (Quality of Life Investment District) Maintenance Supervisor Dave Stark tackled a row of overgrown brush as volunteers and Park employees spread out around the top of the bowl.
“For one thing, homeless [people] have been in and out of here so we’re just kind of cleaning it up to make it a little more visible so it’s not hidden, and the Park department has been introduced to some master plans,” Stark said. “I’m not sure exactly what they’ll schedule inside this bowl, but we’ve got to get it cleaned up. It’s not something that’s going to happen in the near future, long term.”
Crews worked to clear brush and growth from around a wrought iron fence surrounding the top of the reservoir. In places, years old growth and limbs five inches wide were cut away with chainsaws.
“We want to get this cleaned up today to the point at least the fence is visible,” Stark said. “We got the volunteers down inside, picking up decades old spray cans and trash, hauling it out and cleaning it up a little bit.”
Volunteers ventured down into the bowl armed with trash bags and clippers to collect debris.
“The park blitzes are ‘all hands on deck’ cleanups with staff from all the districts/divisions and KC Parks volunteers,” said Heidi Markle, Marketing and Events Manager for KC Parks. “They generally are scheduled fairly last minute. This one is a little different because it just focused on the reservoir.”
The Park department hosts three or four “blitz” events each year. Stark brought eight employees from QLID, and nearly 25 came from District Two.
“We’ll get together, all the districts, and team up on a big project like this,” Stark said. “It’s not unusual for us to all come together, but this project here is a little more unique, I guess, on the obstacles we face.”
Eventually they’ll clean out the bowl of the reservoir. Tuesday’s event allowed crews to get an idea of the space and start brainstorming solutions.
“We’re still thinking of plans,” Stark said. “One is making a ramp all the way down there so the trucks can get in and out, or piling it all up, letting it age and burning it all.”
KC Parks volunteer Eric Lane spends time nearly every week helping clean up parks across Kansas City, though he mostly volunteers around the Troost Lake area.
“So this is kind of considered a new event, the blitz event, where the KC Parks comes in and then we just hit it as hard as we can for two hours,” Lane said. “And I’ve never been up here so I figured this was a really good chance to check it out.”
He found Kessler Park beautiful, and said he will definitely return. Volunteers and staff cleared dozens of bags worth of trash and abandoned belongings from around the fence and inside the reservoir.
“I think we found, sadly, a bag of clothes that was probably somebody’s who was using it to live,” Lane said. “Lots of aerosol cans.”
He’s seen some of the visioning studies done by the Kansas City Design Center (KCDC), a service-learning urban design program staffed by students of the architecture and planning programs at the Kansas State University and University of Kansas.
While there’s no timeline for implementation at this point, KCDC is hosting a presentation at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, 2657 Independence Ave., on February 22 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
“I’ll be interested in seeing just maybe if that adds more attention to, you know, the whole park itself,” Lane said.
Park volunteer Jared Coleman lives in South Kansas City, but can often be found cleaning up Kessler Park and Cliff Drive.
“So Kessler, like Swope and a lot of the other properties, has a lot of untapped potential, I think, so I always see this as kind of helping to develop underdeveloped or underappreciated assets that are out there,” Coleman said. “This reservoir in particular is just a very interesting, cool site with a lot of history in it there.”
He’s also seen KCDC’s plans, and always wondered from the outside what was going on with it.
“Knowing that there’s a ton of different school projects that have dug into this over the last, I guess six, eight years, somewhere in there, it’d definitely be awesome to have some of those be able to just see some more feasibility stages,” Coleman said.
Coleman has been an advocate for more safe pedestrian and bike paths throughout the parks, and hopes Cliff Drive gets some road repairs soon. With better visibility and some repairs, he thinks the reservoir can be a safer area to explore, and he imagines it would be a very unique Kansas City attraction.
More information about park cleanups can be found at kcparks.org/volunteering.