The Cliff Drive Gate One cleanup on Wednesday, March 9 brought out nearly 50 parks employees, a dozen volunteers and KC Parks Ambassadors, and the new Director of Kansas City Parks and Recreation Chris Cotten.
After residents and park users complained of excessive dumping, illegal camping and safety issues, the department rallied to create a comprehensive solution.
Crews used heavy machinery to clear overgrown ground cover and remove larger objects, making it easier to reach the trash below.
“It makes me crazy that it’s a landfill, makes me absolutely nuts because it’s gorgeous,” Columbus Park resident and volunteer Kate Barsotti said. “The erosion has got to be addressed, too, or that road’s going to fall down.”
She worked along an overgrown stone wall that had been used to shelter a campsite, the remains of which included mattresses, shopping carts, discarded clothing, and years old trash.
Resident Engagement Officer Kelly Jander, who leads the KC Parks Ambassadors, has big dreams for Kansas City’s parks. She imagines dedicated volunteers and community members dedicating themselves to each keeping a small piece of Kansas City’s parks clean.
“I imagine people like us, we all take our own 20 by 20 patch, we adopt it, we maintain it,” Jander said. “We figure out how, with the people right next to us, we patchwork it all together and somehow we program it. You know, the parks belong to us. When the community is engaged, that’s how it stays activated.”
The park department already has a program where residents can adopt certain areas of parks, boulevards and parkways for a one-year commitment.
Indian Mound resident Christopher Lowrance is part of a group that just celebrated one year of weekly cleanups at Indian Mound Park at the opposite end of Kessler Park, but on Thursday he concentrated his efforts in Pendleton Heights.
“I had the day off, I saw something was happening and I thought it’d be kind of fun to come over here,” Lowrance said of the all-hands-on-deck cleanup.
With weekly cleanups with just a few volunteers from the neighborhood and KC Parks Ambassadors, they’ve been able to make progress at Indian Mound, which faces many of the same issues as the Gate One area.
“I think when I first moved here, it just seemed kind of sad for people, kids, that our parks were full of trash and stuff like that,” Lowrance said. “And it seemed like we all just deserve to have clean green space to be in so I just started walking my dog and would bring a bag with me and then when the Parks Ambassador started up, you know, definitely having crews come out made a difference.”
They’ve been so consistent with picking up litter and illegal dumping sites that they’ve started venturing out from Indian Mound along Gladstone Boulevard. Just last weekend, they found obvious sustained illegal dumping at Gladstone and North Chelsea, bringing up six bags of trash from the hillside.
“We could tell – like, we were on leaves – and we were stepping on more trash, like bags full of trash, underneath the leaves,” Lowrance said. “As Indian Mound has gotten cleaner, we’ve been kind of working down toward Gate Four.”
KC Parks Environmental Manager Stephen Van Rhein agrees. He supervised employees and volunteers removing brush, reminding them to focus on eradicating invasive species like honeysuckle, but leave healthy trees. Environmental impact was top of mind at the cleanup.
“We’re mostly removing tree of heaven, invasive trees, other kinds of junk trees so we can get back and start mowing, keep the honeysuckle out,” Van Rhein said. “We’re going to get this pushed back a bit. But no, we are being very careful about the tree selection that we are removing.”
Park Ranger Tim Bond was at the location a week previous with parks staff, informing those camping there that it was illegal to camp in parks. He pointed them in the direction of nearby homeless assistance agencies, with which they were already familiar.
“My role out here today is if there’s any homeless camps or anything that is still here – I mean, we gave them like a week to move – if there are and they give us problems, that’s why I’m here,” Bond said.
By 10 a.m., they hadn’t encountered anyone still camping in the woods, but the remnants of years of camps were evident.
Crews worked along the Paseo from Missouri to Gate One, and about 30 yards down the trail toward Berkley Riverfront Park.
“There’s a lot to clean up down there, a lot to clean up,” Bond said. “There’s railroad ties and it looks like there’s remnants of an old building because there’s a lot of bricks down there. It’s something we have to do and it’s our responsibility, Parks and Rec, get rid of the honeysuckle so people can see, right? It’d be a great view.”
Bond applauded the park and rec employees who, after working all day at the clean-up, would head home for a few hours to sleep before coming back to start snow operations. The pick-up trucks parked along The Paseo already had plows and salt sprayers attached.
Working in Human Resources for the City for 15 years before retiring, Bond eventually returned as a park ranger since he had a law enforcement background. Now he’s hoping to convince more people to get jobs with the City.
“I love it. I want people to have jobs,” Bond said. “We have openings. Every time I talk to somebody, if you need a job, just call this number or get online or just let me know.”
The crews and volunteers made noticeable progress last week, and clearing out brush and invasive plants has increased visibility and will make litter collection easier in the future. For more information on KC Parks volunteer opportunities, visit kcparks.org/volunteering/.