Northeast’s park volunteers make a difference

Dorri Partain
Contributor


How many hours a week would you devote to helping keep our Kansas City parks clean? Volunteers with the Parks and Recreation Department’s Park Ambassador program know only two hours a week can make a big difference.


Indian Mound neighborhood resident Christopher Lowrance, whose front yard faces the prominent Indian Mound landmark, has been devoting his Sunday mornings to collect trash around and adjacent to the mound for the past two years. For his efforts, the Park Department recently named him as a recipient of its “Top Service Award” for logging 100 hours in 2022 and collecting and recycling 660 pounds of glass. Four additional volunteers were recognized for their efforts in other city parks.
Depending on weather or holidays, which may cancel the weekly routine, the clean up session usually lasts around two hours.


“I get there a little early with supplies (trash bags and gloves) and to scout around and see where the messes are,” Lowrance said. “We leave trash bags for the Parks crews to pick up, but I take glass to a Ripple bin to recycle. So that adds up to two or three hours per week. KC Parks has an online system for logging hours and bags of glass.”


Volunteers can either just show up during regular weekly cleanups, such as the one at Indian Mound, or go to the Parks and Rec’s web page, www.kcparks.org, to sign up for a specific day, time or location.


“Kelly Jander runs the Parks Ambassadors program, and this might be the best idea KC Parks ever had,” Lowrance said. “She’s great to work with and the work she does organizing has made clean up efforts so much more effective. I can’t believe the difference at Indian Mound, or how much honeysuckle has been cleared in Kessler and up in Briarcliff. Definitely the right person in the right position to make a difference around the parks.”


To become a KC Parks Ambassador, an applicant must be able to volunteer three to five hours a month, attend an information session, complete the volunteer application, and attend an Ambassador training session.


“Parks Ambassadors get asked to do other things too – help out with Make Music Day, Special Olympics, Ethnic Enrichment Fest, 5K’s and more events,” Lowrance said. “If you sign up for their volunteer list, there are a lot of ways to help out. Also some nice perks – there was a volunteer appreciation night at Winter Magic on Cliff Drive and KC Parks volunteers got free admission.”
As for the Sunday morning cleanups, the number of volunteers varies week to week.


“There are a lot of people who help out,” Lowrance said. “There’s a guy, Tim. His grandfather lived on Topping and Tim has great memories of the park, so he comes and helps clean up. Jimmy from the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association has come out many times. There’s a neighbor, John, who will swing by and load up bulky items to take to the dump so Parks crews don’t have to deal with them. We’re out pretty early so it’s usually a pretty small group, and sometimes just me. We are out there almost every week so if anyone wants to stop by once or twice, there is always trash that needs to be cleaned up. One time a guy driving by stopped and said he used to party at Indian Mound – and probably left some messes himself back in the day – so he got out and helped clean up to make up for his wilder years. That one made me laugh.”


The Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department oversees the care and maintenance of 221 parks. In addition to litter cleanups, volunteers can assist with gardening and landscaping, and invasive honeysuckle removal.


Kelly Jander coordinates volunteers and opportunities in the KC Parks Ambassador program.
“KC Parks Ambassadors commit to volunteering at least once a month, but Christopher always exceeds that expectation,” Jander said. “In addition to leading a weekly cleanup at Indian Mound Overlook, he leads volunteer projects throughout Kessler Park whenever needed. His leadership allows us to safely engage more volunteers and cover far more ground than we ever could on our own. Groups also appreciate the personal connection they have when volunteering alongside knowledgeable and engaged residents like Christopher. It creates a much more meaningful and rewarding volunteer experience.”


KC Parks is grateful for Lowrance’s dedication, Jander said.


“He’s a humble, consistent, and zero-fanfare leader,” she added. “He’s an intentional collaborator and a doer. He’s a true ambassador for our Parks, the Historic Northeast, and our city. He’s just an all-around wonderful human. I wish we could clone him.”


Lowrance has seen his share of unusual items that get disposed of in area parks that need to be removed.


“First of all, I’m not encouraging anyone to throw weird stuff into the park just to give me and the volunteers more good stories,” Lowrance said. “Animal remains are always a surprise. We found a huge homemade cat gymnasium recently. Guess it could have been fun for the squirrels if we didn’t haul it off. One time when (volunteer) Wick Thomas came out, they found some giant, three-fingered Mickey Mouse gloves and had some fun trying to use those instead of gardening gloves to pick up trash. Not very efficient, but good for a laugh.”


Lowrance and KC Parks welcome any volunteers to participate, but in particular, volunteers should dress appropriately for the weather and task and wear sturdy shoes. Children under 18 should be accompanied by an adult.


The Indian Mound cleanups begin at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday, and meet by the stone wall adjacent to the mound. To begin your own park clean up, contact the Park Department at
Parks.Volunteers@kcmo.org.

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