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Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park Grand Opening in Pleasant Hill, Missouri

On a chilly afternoon in December, a large crowd of supporters and enthusiasts gathered in downtown Pleasant Hill, Missouri, to witness Governor Jeremiah (Jay) Nixon cut the ribbon to dedicate the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park — the former Rock Island Railroad bed converted to a 47.5 mile crushed-rock trail — that connects to the famed Katy Trail at Windsor, Missouri and continues across the state to St Louis.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and trail supporters cut ribbon at dedication of Rock Island Spur

The Rock Island trailhead is located at 308 W. Commercial street adjacent to the Cass County fairgrounds. The city of Pleasant Hill has been positioning itself to be a ‘trail town’ in preparation for this marked progress.

“The opening of the Rock Island Spur of Katy Trail State Park is a historic moment in our community,” said Mayor Chris J. Hicks. “Our residents and businesses have waited for many years to see this day. We are ecstatic to be the western anchor to the newest state park and cannot wait to welcome trail riders to our hometown. On this monumental day, we also look to future developments of the Rock Island Trail corridor by our many partners.”

RockIslandPark-dedicatn0438-crowd

To complement the Rock Island trail, Pleasant Hill has constructed the MoPAC trail — stretching from the state trailhead northwest to Pleasant Hill City Lake. City leaders and partners have supported the Rock Island trail’s development for years, and recently new businesses have opened in anticipation of trail-related tourism.

Plans are underway to extend the path from Pleasant Hill  all the way to the Truman Sports Complex in Jackson County by 2018. Once complete, the county’s leg is expected to tie in to the heart of the MetroGreen™ Regional Greenway system’s more than 350 completed miles, making it possible to ride or walk from Kansas City to St. Louis.

View our Rock Island Spur grand opening Flickr album »

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Cities Map, Manage and Maintain Urban Trees

Fall trees with crosswalk signalAs financially constrained cities struggle to grow and manage their urban tree canopy, dedicated nonprofits, institutions and volunteers have joined forces to help U.S. cities map and maintain their street trees. These organizations often champion urban forestry mapping projects, helping municipalities select diversified species of trees and identify new planting needs. In turn, many open-source mapping services have emerged, providing a low- to no-cost platform for mapping street trees and quantifying the significant ecological services they provide.

An accurate inventory helps cities manage their trees and prioritize maintenance needs. Successful endeavors to map street trees are underway in cities across the country. New York City’s TreesCount!, an effort to map every tree in the city, counted and collected data for 650,000 trees with the help of more than 2,000 volunteers. In San Francisco, a collaboration between the city and a local nonprofit led to the launch of Urban Forest Map, an effort to count street trees and assess their canopy with an eco-benefit tool, providing a one-stop shop for tree data. In the nation’s capital, Casey Trees aims to preserve Washington D.C.’s street trees through mapping, field work and aerial imagery. Many of these mapping initiatives are large-scale, citizen science projects that rely on community members to contribute tree data using apps on their mobile devices.

Tree mapping data is used to estimate the environmental and economic benefits street trees provide. Mapping software tools like OpenTreeMap quantify services in terms of dollars in a user-friendly format. Improved air quality through carbon sequestration, improved water quality through natural stormwater management, and heat island reduction are a few ecosystem services trees provide. In addition to these services, well-maintained street trees boost local economies by increasing property values and creating safe, vibrant public spaces. Tree maps can be used as environmental education tools and to help build communities around urban forests. Investing in tree inventory data is a great way for cities to adapt to changing climates and improve many public health issues.

Here in Kansas City, where tree cover is around 18 percent, mapping has not been completed for individual trees. However, the iTree Eco Model, used to advance understanding of forest resources, assessed economic value the region’s trees provide. The total value of ecosystem services trees provide is a staggering $93.4 billion in the Greater Kansas City region.  Data from iTree can help the metro area better care for our thriving urban forest and maintain it for the future. Results from the study can be found in MARC’s Tree Data Summary.

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Birds Love Native Trees

Illustration: birds flying around tree with fall colorsNative trees — species that are native to a particular geographic area — help protect water quality through their deep, well-adapted root systems that naturally increase the ability of soil to absorb, treat and retain water. These trees are also essential for supporting our region’s diverse bird populations. Native trees produce more insect prey for birds than non-natives ― and 96 percent  of birds raise their young on insects. They are crucial to preserving habitats, and can support 35 times more insect-eating birds than non-natives. Ever-increasing population density in cities makes it more important to consider the impacts of the built environment on wildlife habitats. To promote avian biodiversity, urban areas must be suitable for both humans and wildlife.


Trees that birds love:

The following native trees attract both birds and beneficial insects in our region. Images and information used with permission from the GrowNative! program.

Downy Hawthorn, Crataegus mollis
Roughleaf Dogwood, Cornus asperifolia
Wild Plum - Prunus Americana
Sassafras, Sassafras albidum
Shingle Oak Quercus imbricaria

Because local insects did not evolve with non-native trees and plants, many lack the ability to overcome a non-native tree’s natural defenses and must feed elsewhere. Caterpillars, a fundamental food source for breeding birds, are one of the most specialized groups — over 90 percent of butterfly and moth larvae feed exclusively on certain plants. Currently, more than 80 percent of suburban areas are landscaped with Asian flora, leaving a food-barren environment for birds looking to find nourishment. When non-native trees replace native species, entire food webs can be disturbed by loss of adapted insects, wiping out sustenance for birds.

A study conducted through Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch program found birds are more likely to build nests in yards dominated by native trees, and will fly farther to find grub if nest locations are not ideal. Although humans may find non-natives exotic and alluring choices for their landscapes, such choices can decrease birds’ survival and fitness, as many lack nutrient-dense seeds and fruit and may lure birds toward predators. Research by ecologist Amanda Rodewald found that chickadees nesting in invasive honeysuckle reared 20 percent fewer young due to increased predation during the breeding season. Non-native trees can be destructive to bird populations by disrupting natural selection.

Help protect habitats that allow birds to flourish by landscaping your yard with native trees. Birds, insects and many other species will thank you!

Visit the MARC Water Quality native plants page for more about native trees, including some that display fall color. »

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Grant calls for Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) now open

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks, recently announced that grant rounds for the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) are now open.  LWCF grants are available to cities, counties and school districts to be used for outdoor recreation projects.  RTP grants fund trail-related projects and are available to local and state governments, school districts, for-profit and non-profit organizations, and businesses.  The deadline to submit applications for both programs is April 22, 2016. For more information about either of these programs, to download the grant applications, and to register for a grant application workshop, visit https://mostateparks.com/page/55065/outdoor-recreation-grants.

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Invest in “Black Gold” by Composting

Compost, or “black gold” as gardeners sometimes call it, is a decayed mixture of plant waste that is used to improve soil. You can make compost from yard waste, food waste or both. As a natural fertilizer, it is one of the best investments you can make for the health and beauty of your yard and garden. It’s also a great way to reduce food and yard waste, which comprise approximately 20–30 percent of your household waste stream.

Compost has many benefits:

  • It enriches the soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Composting waste instead of throwing it in the trash reduces methane emissions from landfills.
  • It lowers our carbon footprint.
  • It encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.

food waste turns to compost

Your compost investment strategy

Option A: Set up a backyard compost bin

If you have a yard, select a dry, shady, or partly shady spot near a water source and preferably out of neighbors’ sight. Ideally, the compost area should be at least one cubic yard in size. A pile works great for just leaves and grass clippings, but if you want to incorporate food waste, you’ll need to use a bin to prevent rodents and pets from invading.

You can build your own bin or purchase one online or at retail locations. You’ll also need a small kitchen compost bin where you can collect and store food waste before taking it to your backyard pile.

There are four types of ingredients needed to make great compost: browns for carbon, greens for nitrogen, air for organisms, and water for moisture. Visit What is composting? for a list of items you can and can’t compost and tips for mixing it right.

Option B: Set up an indoor compost bin

If you don’t have a yard, or would prefer not to set up an outdoor bin, there are two options for indoor composting: vermicomposting and bokashi composting. Vermicomposting uses earthworms to convert food waste into compost. Bokashi composting involves fermenting food waste. If you don’t have an outdoor space to use your compost, use it for houseplants, give it to friends and family members, or contact a nearby community garden.

Option C: Mulch your grass and leaves

The best food for your lawn is grass clippings and leaves. When you mow your yard, mulch the grass clippings and leaves instead of collecting them for disposal. When done properly, the mulch will quickly decompose and return nutrients to the soil naturally. Visit What is composting? for mulching tips.

Option D: Send it off-site

If you suffer from the “ick factor,” you can take your food scraps to Kansas City’s Residential Composting Program at URBAVORE and they’ll compost it for you.

You can take lawn and garden refuse to a community collection center. Some yard waste drop-off facilities also offer residents opportunities to buy mulch or compost at low cost. Search RecycleSpot to find a center near you.

A number of communities offer curbside yard waste collection in addition to regular trash and recycling services. Search by community in RecycleSpot to see if your city is one of them (and call to verify). If you don’t have municipal leaf and brush curbside collection, look for a private company that collects and manages lawn refuse. RecycleSpot includes a list of many providers; contact them to inquire about costs and procedures.

For more information on recycling, visit RecycleSpot, the Kansas City metro area’s one-stop spot for recycling, reuse and waste reduction information.

 

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Celebrating Trees beyond Arbor Days

Photo of three teenagers watering newly planted trees

As petals from blooms speckle the pavement after spring showers, trees catch our eyes and our attention. But after the rich purples, deep reds and bright yellows have disappeared from our daily surroundings, will we continue to notice our trees, and think of all that they do for us? In both urban and rural areas, trees contribute significantly to human health and environmental quality by providing various ecosystem services (i.e., the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life).

National Arbor Day is observed on the last Friday in April. The state of Kansas will observe the holiday on April 24, 2015, while Missouri’s Arbor Day is April 3.

Local events

April 4 — Annual Sapling Giveaway at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,
Overland Park, Kansas

April 18 — KC Parks Arbor Day event at Loose Park, 5200 Wornall, Kansas City, Missouri

April 24 —Arbor Day Celebration at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,
Overland Park, Kansas

April 24 — Arbor Day Celebration at Overland Park City Hall, 8500 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, Kansas

April 25 — Earth Day/Arbor Day Celebration Gardner Greenway Corridor – Madison Street, Gardner, Kansas

 

The Missouri Department of Conservation encourages residents to plant native trees. (See the tree selection and planting guide on the Missouri Department of Conservation website.) A state proclamation notes that trees are an integral part of Missouri’s quality of life:

  • Forests cover nearly one-third of the state.
  • Forests provide outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, natural beauty, and watersheds for streams and rivers.
  • Forests provide employment for more than 33,000 people who convert trees into essential products.
  • Forests contribute beauty and shade to urban, suburban and rural areas while creating a more pleasant and healthful environment.
  • Missouri will continue to benefit from its forests for succeeding generations through tree planting and conservation.

 

“Assessing Urban Forest Effects and Values: the Greater Kansas City Region,” published by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, lists a variety of ways that the MARC region benefits from its forests, including:

  • Water Quality: Tree coverage helps reduce total suspended solids found in streamways by natural filtration and reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in new growth every year.
  • Air Quality: The urban forest improves air quality by reducing air temperature, directly removing air pollutants and reducing energy consumption in buildings (meaning less emissions generated from power sources.)
  • Stormwater Management: Increasing tree cover reduces stormwater drainage from both pervious and impervious areas.
  • Energy Conservation: Trees help conserve energy by shading buildings, providing evaporative cooling and blocking winter winds.
  • Carbon Removal/Storage: Trees in the Kansas City metro remove about 1 million tons of carbon per year (valued at $20.7 million) in addition to storing 19.9 million tons of carbon (valued at $411 million).

Remove 1 million more tons of air pollution each year. The study also found that increasing our tree cover by just 10 percent would:

  • Remove 3.1 million tons more VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions each year.
  • Sequester 9.4 million more tons of carbon each year.
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Trees are worth celebrating!

iTreeWhatDoTreesDoThis year, the national celebration of Arbor Day is today, April 25 and we think that’s a great reason to tout the benefits of trees. In fact, MARC has an entire webpage dedicated to just that! (Kansas also celebrates today, and Missouri celebrated Arbor Day on April 4.)

The benefits of trees span several aspects of helping our environment, including improving air quality and stormwater management, conserving energy, and removing and storing carbon. An increase in tree cover by just 10 percent would remove 1 million additional tons of air pollution per year.

What do trees do for you? Leave a comment, or connect with us on social media to let us know!

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Don’t miss these November events!

Nov. 12–13: Installation and Maintenance of Stormwater Treatment Best Management Practices.

Water Quality LogoThis two-day workshop will demystify the most common components of stormwater treatment best management practices (BMPs). Learn from area experts who have experience designing, installing and maintaining the vegetative components of stormwater treatment BMPs.

The workshop is geared toward landscapers, subcontractors and general contractors currently working with stormwater treatment BMPs or those who would like to gain experience with these systems. Sessions will focus primarily on the most commonly installed practices in the metro area at this time — bioretention, rain gardens and native landscaping.

Learn more

Register now

 

Nov. 19:  Natural Resource Inventory

Be the first to experience new cutting-edge, high-resolution, land-cover data and explore the possibilities.

Local communities across the nation are including natural resource considerations into their planning processes. MARC has assembled the base data essential to integrated environmental planning. This workshop will provide the opportunity to see what new data is available, and how that information may be applied in a variety of contexts to achieve community goals like conserving natural areas, protecting air and water quality, and reducing urban heat islands.

Learn more

Register now

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Tap into grant funds, watch your garden grow

The H2O to Grow Coalition — in collaboration with the Unified Government’s Public Works Department and Public Health Department — has $50,000 in grant funds available for Wyandotte County community gardens and urban farms in need of water taps. Small organizations and individuals often lack the resources to install a new water tap, which can cost from $4,000 to $9,000. The coalition and its partners want to increase access to healthy, locally-grown food in Wyandotte County and reduce stormwater run-off by growing food in empty lots.

“Water access is one of the main barriers to gardens and farms growing more food to feed Wyandotte Countians,” said Katherine Kelly of Cultivate Kansas City, an H2O to Grow Coalition member. “With 18,000 Wyandotte County residents living with low access to food, the H2O to Grow Coalition has been looking for creative ways to remove that barrier.”

Learn more on the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., website.

The coalition will host a grant application workshop Thursday, Aug. 1, at 6:30 p.m., at Cross-Lines Annex, 736 Shawnee Ave., Kansas City, Kan. 66105. The application deadline is Aug. 22.

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