A volunteer from Global FC Soccer digs up a bush honeysuckle root system as other volunteers drag cut bushes away into a pile along Cliff Drive on May 7. Photo by Dorri Partain

By Dorri Partain

As cyclists, joggers and dog walkers passed by, volunteers were hard at work clearing areas along the roadways of Cliff Drive, removing invasive species to allow native plants to flourish once again.

On Saturday, May 7, volunteers from Global FC Soccer and KC Parks Ambassadors tackled an area west of Cliff Drive’s Gate 2. Armed with saws and shovels, bush honeysuckle was cut down, then either dug up or treated with an herbicide to ensure it would not grow back.

Spearheaded by Pendleton Heights resident Wil Odin, areas are being cleared and replanted in phases. The first area, just north of the Gate 2 entrance, was cleared in the fall of 2020, and then replanted last spring.

Wil Odin holds up honey suckle roots during Spring 2021 clean up.

To replace the honeysuckle, which despite its height has very shallow roots, volunteers spent two days in the spring of 2021 planting native trees such as spicebush, pawpaw, mulberry, cottonwood, hickory, wild plum, sumac and 12 different varieties of oak, for a total of 1,250 new plants. The trees were acquired through the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

The current area being cleared will showcase native grasses and forbs. Work began last summer and about 5,000 square feet have been cleared since the first work day on Earth Day, April 22.

“I am going to have that area prepped by fall at the latest so I can sow seeds this winter,” Odin said. “Seeds are funded by an MDC grant. I source (the seeds) from Pure Air Natives, Hamilton Outpost, and Missouri Wildflowers Nursery. This coming spring (2023) we will plant some shrubs and trees, less than the other planting area since it’s better suited to be a glade or savanna than woodland.”

Progress is highly dependent on volunteers willing to devote a few hours of their time. Odin himself has a full schedule, with a full time job, a 135-year-old house, and a two-and-a-half year old son.

“Basically, I’m doing this for the future, I’m doing this for my son,” Odin remarked.

Natalie Auer, a KC Parks Ambassador, helped with tree planting last spring. She lives in the Volker neighborhood, but appreciates the beauty of Cliff Drive.

“It’s the only urban scenic byway in the United States, and it’s so beautiful; I love being here,” she remarked as she dug around a honeysuckle root.

Pendleton Heights resident Mark Fenner was also present and helped last spring with planting. While the majority of volunteers arrived at 9 a.m., Fenner arrived an hour earlier to pick up trash, as he does every morning while out on his daily walk.

While digging up honeysuckle roots, Odin keeps an eye on the youngest volunteers, those from the soccer team, directing them on the best way to tackle digging up roots and which trees and bushes should be cut down. As a snake emerged from its hillside home, all the boys gathered around to see it, as Odin explained it wouldn’t harm them and to let it go on its way.

As boys kept checking back and asking about the snake, which was less than two feet long, Odin said, “That’s a good sign. It shows that we’re creating a better habitat for them.”

In an effort to assess current conditions in Kessler Park, Christina Hoxie, founder of the Hoxie Collective, joined volunteers and worked alongside them, dragging cut bushes to an area for collection later. The Hoxie Collective, a community and regional planning and design team, has been chosen to create a re-purposing plan for Kessler Park and Hoxie was on hand to participate in the “day-to-day, month-to-month interaction.”

A volunteer from Global FC Soccer cuts tree limbs to clear area along Cliff Drive on May 7. Photo by Dorri Partain

“Wil’s conservation projects provide a great example of ways to manage invasive plant species and replant native species to create a healthier ecosystem,” Hoxie said. “His projects also provide opportunities for people of all ages to get involved with a community-led conservation project and learn about taking care of the park.”

Hoxie was thrilled to have this opportunity to connect with community members and spend time getting to know this part of the park with passionate, knowledgeable volunteers.

“The plan for Kessler Park that my team and I are working on for the KCMO Parks Department will focus on increased connectivity, environmental conservation, and strategies for streamlining operations and maintenance of the park,” Hoxie said. “Our understanding needs to be grounded in the community’s connection to this place and all of the important ongoing work that we can learn from.”

John Bordeau, who lives just up the hill from Gate 2, coordinates the cleanup sessions with Odin.

“I focus on the trash, litter, and dumping mainly,” Bordeau said. “We have never formally divided responsibilities, but it just happened that Wil was very knowledgeable about plants and invasive species removal and replacement.”

For their hard work, volunteers were treated to a pizza lunch. Odin and Bordeau will happily host any groups that want to help clean up around Gate 2. The next work day has been set for Saturday, June 25 from 9 a.m. to noon. To volunteer, check out the “Clean Up Kessler Park” Facebook page or just show up at Gate 2.