Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

North Terrace Lake was once a grand refuge, just minutes from bustling downtown Kansas City, Mo. in Kessler Park. In recent years, it has fallen into disrepair, with broken benches and a sidewalk collapsed into the water, littered with garbage and the remains of campfires.

One young outdoorsman, backed by a strong community and its partners, is seeking to change that with his proposal to fix up his favorite fishing hole.

Jack Murphy, 11, submitted the initial PIAC application at age 10 for funds to revitalize the park with the help of his mother, Sara Murphy. They presented their plan to the Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association (PHNA) on April 13.

“It’s a great place to fish, bike ride and hike, and just be in nature,” Jack said, adding that his main goals are to get the trash cleaned up, add or repair the sidewalks going around the pond, testing the fish and water, and making it more accessible.

The only access points are by walking through Kessler Park, since Cliff Drive is closed to vehicle traffic, or parking along Chestnut Trafficway.
At the meeting, his neighbors rallied around him to share their ideas and ongoing projects that could be mutually beneficial.

“Because of Jack’s spark of excitement on this project, because he uses this waterway, Barbara Washington’s Chief of Staff Sharon Folsom basically put together a meeting where she’s like, ‘Jack, I want to hear your presentation,’ and then she basically committed that the senator knows of funding sources to get this done,” PHNA President Chris Brinkley said. “What she needs is just a punch list of what you as a community say needs to happen to this park, and then I’ll help you write those grants to the right partners.”

Sheron Fulson, Third District PIAC Representative appointed by Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, took interest in the project. In addition to her role as PIAC representative, she serves as Chief of Staff for the 9th Senatorial District that takes in the third, some of the fourth, parts of the fifth and sixth Kansas City Council districts.

“As an individual who has been placed in a position with multiple resources, I felt this would be a great project for partnerships and I began calling and emailing agencies I knew would be able to assist with this young man’s desire to see a great park restored,” Fulson said. “While PIAC funds may be an option, it is not the only option.”

Right now, the project is in the discovery and planning phase. First, data must be collected on the condition of the soil, water quality, vegetation and other concerns within the park.

“We want to get this right and use it as a model in other neighborhoods that desire to improve their neighborhood park,” Fulson said. “I look at this project not only as being important to the Northeast area only, but to all of Kansas City and the surrounding areas.

She expects partnering agencies and the neighborhoods surrounding this park to share with other neighborhoods on how to improve desired areas in their respective neighborhoods, as well as lend a helping hand.

“It inspired me to tell his story to everyone I called to get them to recognize this 10-year-old’s desire to make a change in his community,” Fulson said. “Moving forward this process will look like several partnering agencies coming together to revitalize a neighborhood park initiated by a very special young man.”

Fulson asked the University of Missouri Extension Program in Kansas City (MU Extension) to the table as a resource, bringing their facilitation and engagement with the community, and project management services.

“It’s the extension of the research that is done on campus and is extended out to the community in practical measures,” said Shatomi Luster-Edward, regional director of MU Extension. “We teach that research in practical measures to our community. We have several different topics, several different subject matters and areas within the greater Kansas City area, one of them being horticulture, thus one of the reasons why we are involved in the Kessler project.”

Walking from his house through Kessler Park to North Terrace Lake, Jack pointed out where he sometimes sees a fox, and listened for different birds. He described the family of mallard ducks who live at the pond and talked about his recent trip to go turkey hunting.

Since he was little, Jack and his family have had to travel outside of the city for fishing and conservation classes, but he would like to see them in his own neighborhood, as well as community events or gatherings at North Terrace Lake.

“It’d be cool to have things where people with transportation issues could take the bus or something,” Sara said.

MU Extension is assisting with the youth development aspect through their 4-H program and a partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation for Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs, and they’re hoping to create a youth version. They not only focus on knowledge and education, but quality of life.

“Jack has this wonderful idea for the park, for the lake, and we want to make his vision a reality,” Luster-Edward said. “We took a few steps back and we listened to Jack and his mother, and tried to understand that need… If we just go into any project at surface level, that’s a temporary fix versus a long-term fix, and MU Extension is in this for the long haul. We’re here to get to the root cause and flourish from there.”

The extension plays a role in the overall vision and quality of Kessler Park, partnering with organizations to make the wants and needs of the community a reality.

“I think the overall goal is to revitalize what the original vision of the park was, and hopefully modernize that,” Luster-Edward said.

In the late 1890s George Kessler, the landscape architect and engineer who was a driving force in creating the City’s park and boulevard system, was honored by the Board of Kansas City, Mo., Park and Recreation Commissioners when they renamed one of the early parks created through Kessler’s master plan as Kessler Park. The park’s previous name was North Terrace Park and it was an important part of the master plan presented in the first Report of Park and Boulevard Commissioners of Kansas City, Mo. in 1893.

Tamra Reall, MU Extension Field Specialist in Horticulture, is bringing her expertise to Kessler Park.

“There’s a lot of research in regards to native plants and using them as a restoration tool,” Reall said. “This actually is in line with the [KC Parks] sustainability plan to increase native plants, going from annuals more to native plants.”

Native plants grew here originally, and are more accustomed to the climate and soil. They help prevent soil erosion and are more accommodating to native insects, creating a better ecosystem all around.

“When we have these erosion areas, that soil is moving into the pond, and that’s not good for the fish, it’s not good for the plants that are around, it really changes things,” Reall said.

Both the MU Extension and the Missouri Department of Conservation are aware of the overgrown, invasive honeysuckle in Kessler Park. Residents of Northeast are tackling it with a grassroots effort, which the Northeast News will explore more in next week’s issue.

“With Jack being at the forefront of this, and all of us being a part, he makes it very relevant to the people in the neighborhood, to kids, to show us how all of us can work together to make this a better place,” Reall said. “We would love to do this everywhere, but we really need community involvement.”

The improvements recommended on the initial proposal include debris removal around the park and pond and an ongoing trash removal program, including new trash bins. Jack is also adamant about having the water and fish evaluated.

“There’s a thing you can have done where a small boat will come out and they send electrical charges through the water, which stuns all the fish so you can get a survey of what fish are in it and how big they are, so we can figure out how we can best help the pond be in tip top shape,” Jack said.

He recognizes many of the fish he’s caught there before, but would love to see a bridge built to the island in the middle of the pond, since he’s heard there’s bass out there, and he would use a different method to fish for them.

KC Parks, Kansas City Design Center (KCDC), Scuola Vita Nuova (SVN) and others have committed to moving this project and others in Kessler Park forward alongside MU Extension.

“Fortunately, we have several agencies that can assist based on their respective duties and responsibilities,” Fulson said.

The partners have set an August 2021 deadline for community engagement, gathering resources, and determining next steps.