The Platte Land Trust is celebrating 20 years of volunteer work to keep scenic open spaces in Platte County’s future. Dedication in large measure is needed for a volunteer group to carry forward for two decades. The Land Trust has earned our trust that they are indeed dedicated.
Members held a gathering June 21 to celebrate and invited the public. A rainy day that followed hot sweltering days kept the crowd light at the Charlotte Sawyers Natural Area, but they were spirited. Marshmallows were toasted over a campfire for s’mores. A cash bar was open. Birding expert Mark McKellar gave a presentation at dusk. Members gave visitors and newcomers guided trail hikes at the 20-acre Sawyers Natural Area near Parkville.
I’m not a Land Trust member, but I’m a big fan of conservation, green space preservation and people who make a difference for the better in their community. So upon request, I twisted arms and the old-time music band that I play in, Uncle Baccy Juice, donated fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass music to the festivities. I’m also a big fan of a rain front that breaks summer heat. It was a wonderful, cool night. If you weren’t there, you missed one of the most pleasant nights of this June.
Charlotte Saywers donated her farm to the Land Trust in 1998. She wanted it protected for the wildlife she enjoyed. The area is in the rough, up-and-down bluff area bordering the Missouri River bottoms, off of Union Chapel Road. The scenic bluffs in southern Platte County are in the path of ongoing home development. Sometimes they’re little acreages and a house. Sometimes the acres become graded lots for multiple houses. The working farms that lasted in the Parkville area from the 1800s into the 1980s are now gone. Development is the rule. Sawyers saved a green patch for people to enjoy nature.
I saw the farm and met Sawyers shortly after her donation in 1998. I remember a small circle of Land Trust officers and members and myself getting to meet Sawyers, as I had written about her donation. They were happy that the Land Trust now held a major piece of progress for its mission of preserving natural areas, farms and open spaces.
The gathering last week was my first visit back in 20 years. I found a trail leading into the woods and past the small hillside pond that serves as a watering hole for wildlife. Volunteers had cleared major amounts of invasive bush honeysuckle. An overgrown forest area has been thinned to let the oak and walnut trees dominate and for small woodland plants to return. On an upper hillside, an old field is being prepped for a return to native prairie grasses and wildflowers. But some wildflowers like black-eyed Susan have returned on their own.
A husband and wife with young children tagged along on the walk I made as Carla Dods, a member of the non-profit’s board of directors, pointed out projects done and those to do. They watched an owl glide through the trees, the youngster eagerly scanning the trees for another. Places for the next generation to learn, play and exercise their sense of wonder in nature are so important.
Dods pointed out that the property is available for special programs by permission, including education programs. They welcome volunteers wanting to work on habitat programs, too.
But the Platte Land Trust has branched out beyond the Sawyers farm. The trust holds conservation easements at the National and the Deuce golf courses in Parkville. They also hold easements on some other rural properties. In 2015, the trust was a critically important financial contributor to help buy at auction Snowball Prairie near Harrisonville in Cass County. The hilltop prairie is one of the finest examples of unplowed native prairie left in the Kansas City metro area. I know of none like it in Platte County.
If you have land in or outside Platte County that you’d like to see spared from development, talk to the Platte Land Trust about donations or various programs that make putting land into easements financially beneficial. You’ll find more information at plattelandtrust.org
I recently drove to Fort Wayne, Ind., for a conference. Prior, I knew nothing about the town. But I came away impressed at how they’re developing parks along their rivers, preserving historic buildings, and making sure pedestrians and bicyclists are welcome in their business areas. Those are things municipal and county parks departments must use their financial, planning and zoning resources to accomplish. May those improvements that both residents and visitors use to judge quality of life continue to develop full bore in Platte County.
But government cannot do all. On the back roads are places with streams, wooded hillsides, meadows, old hand-laid stacked stone walls, and history. Private citizens can partner with Platte Land Trust to save them for the future. Twenty years is a long time to me, but I hope someday Trust members will celebrate 120 years and thank those who took a good idea and worked unselfishly to weave green space preservation into what a community counts as progress.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.