Friends of the Kaw clean up the Kansas River and educate the public on environmental issues

Our weekly reminder that people aren't all bastards

Rachel Treanor knows all about the Kansas River's bad reputation.

The funny smells. The toxic fish. The littered sandbanks.

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Submitted photo

Friends of the Kaw volunteer Rachel Treanor

But unlike most of the river's critics, Treanor decided to do something about it and join Friends of the Kaw.

"We want everyone to be aware of the hazards," says Treanor, an environmental consultant who volunteers as the organization's secretary.

"It is linked to contamination and pollution. I think the more we can educate the public on what that means, people will be better prepared when it comes time to vote on issues that affect water quality."

Treanor is one of 160-plus Friends of the Kaw who donate $35 a year (or more) to support the organization's efforts to clean up the 170-mile river and educate the public. In recent years, FOTK has removed tires from sandbanks, pursued pollution offenders and informed fishing enthusiasts that it's not a good idea to eat the fish.

Upcoming Friends of the Kaw events:

Saturday, April 22, 11 a.m. Earth Parade in Downtown Lawrence on Massachusetts St. from Watson Park to South Park. Followed by "April Showers to Water Towers" festival 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. at South Park.

Sunday, April 23, 9:30 a.m. Riverkeeper presentation at Trinity Episcopal Church, 10th and Vermont.

Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m. Lawrence to Eudora float trip.

Persons interested in joining Friends of the Kaw can contact 1-866-RIV-KEEP or visit www.kansasriver.com for more information.

More local volunteer opportunities are available at rhvc.org and lawrence.com/volunteer.

"There are issues locally that suggest that it's not safe to eat fish from the Kaw, but not everybody knows that," Treanor says. "The more the river is used and promoted for public access, the stricter the water standards will become."

FOTK encourages such access by installing boat ramps and sponsoring float trips for its members. Meticulous measures are taken to stay above the questionable water.

"We just have to go out thinking that we won't tip," Treanor says. "If the water levels are too high or moving too quickly, we of course don't go."

The group has a busy weekend coming up with an appearance at Saturday's Earth Parade and the "April Showers to Water Towers" festival at South Park. On Sunday, Riverkeeper Laura Calwell will offer a presentation at Trinity Episcopal Church and lead a float trip from Lawrence to Eudora.

As the only paid FOTK staff member, Calwell's job is to hold communities accountable for the health of the river.

"She travels all over the Midwest if there's a state that might have some kind of joint interest with Kansas," Treanor says. "All of the watersheds are connected in some way or another."

The organization mixes environmental professionals with concerned citizens and local activists, Treanor says.

"We all come together from different trades and careers to participate in a local resource that we think is worth preserving," she says. "We all have full-time busy schedules, but we all make time to participate."

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