Monday, July 25, 2011

How about a river cruise?

Our Reception Committee
Having lived most of my life in Missouri, first in St. Louis and now in Kansas City I have always been acutely aware of the presence of the two rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi. These rivers bordered my imagination, locating me in my known universe.  I have always been aware of their flow and their presence like the tides to the moon.

So on a recent trip to the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois Amy and I decided to take a drive along the Mississippi River to look for some birds and enjoy the day. As expected there was a fair number of industrial areas along the river but there were also a lot of recreational and natural areas along the river as well.

I was impressed with how much the river was used by people.  I saw boaters, swimmers, fishermen, campers, cyclists and more using the river and the area along the river. It provided a strong contrast to the almost non-existent use of the Missouri River in and around Kansas City. Even St. Louis where I grew up didn't use the river for recreational purposes quite to the extent that the folks of the Quad Cities used there portion of the mighty Mississippi!

There may be many reasons for the difference between Kansas City's non-use of the Missouri and the Quad Cities extensive use of the Mississippi.  First, there is clearly a lack of vision today as to the recreational benefits of the Missouri River. When I drove across the I-29 bridge into Kansas City and looked at the rather anemic Richard Berkley Riverfront Park (Its actually just a handful of skinny trees, a bike path and a parking lot or two) I wondered at the lack of vision. It could be so much more, a much more attractive place to play and possibly work.

Perhaps its more than just vision.  I know that the Levee Districts around Kansas City can be quite difficult to work with(I've heard impossible). These privately controlled districts own the levees and pretty much refuse to allow any access across their levees.  Add to that the various political entities that would have to work cooperatively on both sides of the river and you can see why their is little recreational use of the Missouri in and around Kansas City.

Getting to the heart of the matter may be the lack of the immediate presence of flood control measures on this section of the Missouri, unlike the flood control on the Mississippi.  The Army Corps of Engineers has a Lock and Dam located right in the Quad Cities.  They also control a good portion of the park land that we saw on either side of the river. So their presence has had a positive effect on the recreational opportunities in the area even as they may have upset the natural habitat of the river for such species as the Least Tern or the Pallid Sturgeon. This may be the real explanation of the differences between Kansas City and the Quad Cities.  The historic lack of cooperation between the various county, state and city governments in the Kansas City region would make an organization like the Corps essential in the creation of the recreational opportunities that they have in the Quad Cities.

How about a river cruise?
The bottom line for me as that I would love to see us move away from treating the Missouri and Mississippi like an open sewer and start maintaining it for conservation and recreational purposes.  Wouldn't a springtime stroll along the river or a dinner cruise on a steamboat be a better use of the river than just treating it like a sewer and trash dump?  How about a nice canoe trip down river on a summer afternoon rather than dumping old appliances onto its shores? How about allowing some areas along the river return to their natural pre-settlement uses as wetlands and habitat for deer, waterfowl, and turkeys? It just takes vision.