Sunday, February 13, 2005
Standing on the Kansas River levee last week, it wasn't hard for Carey Maynard-Moody to start ticking off a list of Lawrence's natural resources.
"We've got the Kaw River," she said. "We've got really good air still. We're lucky to have that.
"And we've got some open spaces, still have farmland -- there's a lot of that. And then there's things like the wetlands, the Kansas Biological Survey ... and some other areas that the public doesn't really have public access, but with permission, the public can enjoy those areas."
If you're looking to explain why Lawrence is home to so many environmentally minded people, in other words, look around at the environment.
"It is a lovable community," said Maynard-Moody, a member of the Sierra Club Wakarusa Group and the Alliance for the Conservation of Open Space. "Part of that (lovability) is the natural environment of Lawrence."
Donald Worster, a distinguished professor of history at Kansas University who helped start the Kansas Land Trust, said the university's presence in Lawrence -- along with KU's environmental studies program -- sparks environmentalism here.
"I'd like to think that people with education are aware of the implications of what we're doing right now, questions about the sustainability of our way of life," Worster said. "Having education about these matters has a way of empowering and emboldening people."
It's hard to say how many people in Lawrence would call themselves "environmentalists." The local Sierra Club has 500 members on its rolls, Maynard-Moody said; only a fraction of those members are active.
But Lawrence is certainly host to an array of environmental organizations. The Kansas Land Trust -- which helps private owners set aside property for conservation -- got its start here.
So did Friends of the Kaw and the Kaw Valley Heritage Alliance, which work to clean up and preserve the environment along the Kansas River. The Sierra Club and Audubon Society both have chapters in Lawrence. The Alliance for the Conservation of Open Space encompasses many of those groups.
What's more, Lawrence is home to one of the few Earth Day parades in the state.
And one of the city's most enduring controversies of the last 20 years -- over a proposed South Lawrence Trafficway route through the Baker Wetlands -- is grounded partly in environmental concerns.
Maynard-Moody said the SLT had proved a catalyst for environmental activism in the city.
"That certainly did galvanize all the groups that were already in love with the place and using the place," she said of the wetlands.
But environmental groups have made their presence felt on other less-contentious issues, as well. They've persuaded City Hall not to use pesticides in some parks; and they've helped push for the city bus system and for city-sponsored recycling of more than 1,600 tons of cardboard, newspapers and office papers in 2004.
"From an economic standpoint, it makes sense not to pay for those tons at the landfill," said Michelle Crank, the city's waste reduction and recycling specialist. "And we do have a lot of conscientious folks here in town who would agree that saving resources is a positive thing."
But environmentalists say there's more work to be done.
For one thing, the Kansas River is dotted with signs warning residents against eating fish from the river -- the result of atrazine and other pollutants from pesticide runoff.
Lance Burr, a Lawrence environmental attorney and a founding member of Friends of the Kaw, wants to get the river cleaned up.
"Your river is your barometer. It's the barometer on how well you're taking care of the environment," Burr said. "Right now, we're not where we need to be."
If it were cleaned up, he said, and if greater access were allowed, the Kansas River could be a prime recreational resource.
"Once you get people out on the river, they're blown away by its beauty," Burr said. "Camping out on the river, seeing the mist rise -- it's something that you don't forget."
Also on the environmental to-do list: curbside recycling. The city picks up cardboard from businesses, yard waste from homes on Mondays and newspapers from bins around town, but officials say a full-blown recycling program would be too expensive. In the meantime, glass and can recyclers must drive out to centers such as Wal-Mart on south Iowa Street.
And environmentalists such as Boog Highberger on the Lawrence City Commission are pushing to ensure that newly developing areas of town are friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists so residents can walk instead of drive.
Despite such efforts, though, Maynard-Moody worries the area's natural resources are taken for granted.
"When the water and the air are so fouled, it gets expensive to clean it up and it becomes health issues," Maynard-Moody said. "When the land is gone, it's gone, and there's no getting it back."