What’s so special about Kansas: Interview with Dawn Buehler, Kansas Riverkeeper

The biggest misconception about the Kansas River is that it is a dumping ground – a big ditch. People think that it’s too dirty to be on and that it’s not a floatable waterway. …

As a Kansas native, I love this state for many of the reasons other may not. I love that the land can be flat, then rise to the small peaks of the Flint Hills. I love that you can literally see the horizon, therefore see the most beautiful sunsets ever painted by nature’s brush.

As a part of our What’s So Special about Kansas interviews, we reached out to Dawn Buehler, who’s currently the Kansas Riverkeeper for the Friends of the Kaw.

Friends of the Kaw serve the Kansas River, which is the largest prairie watershed in the world, and the organization’s mission is to:

  • Advocate the rehabilitation of the Kaw and its environs – water quality and wildlife habitat
  • Promote compatible public recreational use of the river
  • Encourage the development of adequate public access
  • Cooperate with other individuals, organizations and agencies as appropriate to meet these goals

Kansas Trail Guide: One of your titles at the moment is “Kansas Riverkeeper” for FOK – what goes into being the Kansas Riverkeeper?

friends of the kawDB: The Kansas Riverkeeper is a non-governmental public advocate who serves as the eyes, ears and voice of the Kansas River. The Riverkeeper advocates for the river by acting as leader, scientist, educator, spokesperson and investigator.

Part of the Riverkeeper’s responsibilities includes holding the community responsible for the health of its river. The dumping of any type of waste in our river or streams is illegal. Unfortunately, this activity often goes unreported.

KTG: Our book with University Press of Kansas is all about trails in Kansas for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Many of the trails are in state and county parks. Do you have a favorite park or favorite trail in Kansas? If so, what is it that makes it special for you?

DB: The Kansas River is a National Water Trail – designated in 2012. So my favorite trail is the Kansas River on my kayak.

My second favorite trail to hike is the Konza 7 mile outer loop on the Konza Prairie. Absolutely stunning views of the Flint Hills! I love that when you hike to the top of the hill it feels like you can see to Colorado…most people don’t think of Kansas like that, but it is really quite stunning.

KTG: Do you have a favorite Kansas river or lake?

DB: My favorite Kansas river is THE Kansas River, or the Kaw as known locally. It is a very peaceful and scenic river, and if you ever have the opportunity to camp on the sandbars, you will get a real treat with another of Kansas’ beautiful sunsets!

My favorite lake to go to is Milford Lake, again for the amazing sunsets, but also for the great wildlife, fishing, camping and hiking.

KTG: Why do you feel it’s important that people have access to rivers, in particular the Kaw?

DB: It is very important that Kansans have access to their state. Specifically, the places that are owned by the public should be made accessible to the public, and the Kansas River is one of those places.

All streams in Kansas should be public waterways, but right now only the Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas are public waterways. It is important for people to be able to enjoy their own home state and the beauty of the Kansas River is one that should be shared with all.

KTG: Do you have a favorite stretch of the Kansas River?

DB: My personal favorite stretch is the area between Eudora and DeSoto; however, my reasoning may be different from anyone else.

I grew up on the banks of the Kansas River in the DeSoto river bottoms and this is my home. We regularly were on the river between these two towns fishing, camping on sandbars, riding in our old john boat or riding in a canoe.

I have some of my best memories on this stretch of the river…and it is very scenic as well! One of the most picturesque sections of the river is through the Flint Hills, around Wamego. Stunning really!

KTG: What would you recommend for those who’ve never paddled in Kansas before and would like to try it out?

DB: I recommend that anyone join us on one of our guided float trips. This type of float is designed for the novice boater. We bring the life jacket, boat and paddle and we show you how to use it and how to float the river. It’s the perfect opportunity for someone to learn and be with experienced paddlers.

We do many cleanup floats throughout the season that are free to the public on a first come, first serve basis. On these floats, we clean up trash in the Kansas River as we float and we have a hotdog and marshmallow roast as well. It’s a great time…cleaning up the river and enjoying a beautiful trip down the Kansas River!

KTG: What barriers do you feel need to be overcome to get people out on the trails, whether it’s water or land, in Kansas?

DB: In Kansas, the barriers that we need to overcome are that we need to change the law and allow all people access to all rivers and streams – not just the big three. We need laws that allow all people access to their state.

Other barriers are fear of the unknown and we help with this by offering our guided floats that get folks out on the river in a more secure environment with people that are experienced.

I think the barriers for hiking on trails would be to educate the public about what is available to them.

KTG: What are some of the biggest Kansas misconceptions you think people have?

DB: The biggest misconception about the Kansas River is that it is a dumping ground – a big ditch. People think that it’s too dirty to be on and that it’s not a floatable waterway.

We are working to help the public understand that so much has changed with our river and that it is cleaner than years ago. We still have a lot to do as a state, but we are improving the river. The river is much more than a glance as you drive over the bridge!

KTG: What makes Kansas special for you?

DB: As a Kansas native, I love this state for many of the reasons other may not. I love that the land can be flat, then rise to the small peaks of the Flint Hills. I love that you can literally see the horizon, therefore see the most beautiful sunsets ever painted by nature’s brush.

I love that the people of Kansas are hard working, family based and work hard for their communities. I love that we are fly-over state…and I feel sad for those that have missed its beauty.

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