Friends of the Kaw celebrates 30 years of defending the Kansas River


Volunteers used picks, shovels and their bare hands to remove more than 450 old tires last October from a sandbar on the Kansas River near Eudora.

The tires had been placed along the north shore of the river between the 1950s and 1970s as part of a well-intentioned but unsuccessful effort to prevent erosion, says Dawn Buehler, Kansas Riverkeeper and executive director of the goal group. Friends of the Kaw nonprofit.

The tires were washed away during periods of high water, especially in 1993, and got stuck in the sandbar, she said.

Friends of Kaw organized volunteers who went to the sandbank last October and dug the tires.

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This group and the partner organizations then used boats to transport the tires to land, where they were taken for recycling.

Friends of the Kaw are planning to perform a similar tire removal on Saturday, Oct. 16, on a sandbar about a mile long on the Kansas River in Shawnee, Johnson County, Buehler said.

But first, this group plans to celebrate their 30th anniversary at a 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. event on Saturday, September 18 at Kaw River State Park, 300 SW Wanamaker Road.

The proceeds will be used to fund the work of Friends of the Kaw, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving the Kansas River.

Friends of the Kaw was founded in 1991 by residents of the northern Lawrence who mounted what has become a successful campaign to convince authorities to deny permits requested by companies hoping to dredge sand from the Kansas River, according to this organization’s website.

Approval of these permits would have harmed the river and its ecosystem, Buehler said.

Meet Kansas Guardian Dawn Buehler

Dawn Buehler works to be the eyes, ears and voice of the Kansas River in her job as Kansas Riverkeeper and executive director of the nonprofit group Friends of the Kaw.

Today, Friends of the Kaw defends the Kansas River and works to keep it clean, Buehler said.

The 173 mile river runs from Junction City to Kansas City, Kan.

It provides drinking water to about 800,000 of the state’s 2.9 million people, including the people of Topeka, Buehler said.

She said she grew up along this river on a vegetable farm near DeSoto.

Buehler said his experiences growing up in the 1970s and 1980s included camping on sandbanks, fishing and canoeing on the river, and watching sunsets from a deck overlooking it.

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Buehler went on to obtain a university degree in commerce and worked for about 15 years as an accountant.

But with encouragement from her husband, Dennis Buehler, she earned a bachelor’s degree related to fish and wildlife conservation and changed careers by taking a job at the Douglas County Conservation District.

Dawn Buehler also began volunteering by helping with the Kansas River Cleanup hosted by Friends of the Kaw.

She successfully applied in 2015 for the position of Friends of the Kaw Riverkeeper, which was released by the retirement of Laura Calwell.

Riverkeeper is spokesperson, scientist

The Friends of the Kaw nonprofit group will celebrate their 30th anniversary next month by defending and cleaning up the Kansas River, which is shown here.

Friends of the Kaw has been a member since 2001 of the Global Waterkeeper Alliance, an international group of more than 300 organizations working to protect waterways in 34 countries, according to the The Friends of Kaw website.

“As part of this membership, we were tasked with hiring a non-government public attorney who would serve as the eyes, ears and voices of Kansas River – the Kansas Riverkeeper,” the site says. “The Riverkeeper defends the river by acting as a leader, scientist, educator, spokesperson and investigator.”

Friends of the Kaw also employs a part-time program manager and education coordinator who works on a contract basis, Buhler said.

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She said Friends of the Kaw raises funds to pay its employees and fund its operations by hosting fundraising events and securing grants, donations and dues.

Friends of the Kaw typically has around 600 members, with the cost of membership being $ 35 per year for individuals and $ 60 per year for families, Buehler said.

Members of the group live “along the entire length of the river,” she said.

‘If you throw it away, we’ll find it’

Buehler’s duties as a river warden include kayak patrolling to identify potential problems.

She said she does this up to three or four times a week during the warmer months, especially looking for places where the garbage has been dumped.

While dumping doesn’t happen every day, “the fact that it still happens is just amazing to me,” Buehler said.

She said users of the river kept her regularly informed of the waste being dumped.

“If you throw away, we’ll find it and we’ll report it,” Buehler said.

Friends of the Kaws’ efforts routinely result in garbage tickets by law enforcement and then fines, she said.

“You probably don’t hear much about it,” Buehler said. “We’re not really in the public shame aspect of all of this.”

Friends of Kaw also organize 30 to 40 annual cleanups in which volunteers remove trash from specific sections of the river, sometimes picking up large items that include refrigerators.

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Wash the car in the car wash, not in the driveway

The Friends of Kaw also run probably 18-20 paddle trips each year during which they educate students and members of the public about conservation issues, Buehler said.

She tells the Topekans on these trips how the tap water provided by the Topeka city government to residents was taken from the Kansas River and then treated.

“If we have a group of Topeka students, damn it, we’re talking about how their drinking water comes from the surface waters of the Kansas River and what that means,” Bueher said. “You are draining a 61,000 square mile watershed as a source of drinking water.

“So do we care what happens in the 61,000 square miles? Damn, we do.”

Buehler explains to the participants of the paddle trip the practical steps they can take to enjoy the river, including washing their cars in a car wash rather than in a driveway.

“Because when you wash it in a car wash, the water goes to the sewage treatment plant and is treated before it goes back to the river,” she said. “But if you wash your car in your driveway, all that soapy lather goes back to the river untreated, which affects the water quality, which affects your drinking water supply.”

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Beavers, river otters and bald eagles are present in and around the river

Buehler also enlightens the participants of the paddle trip on the diversity of the fauna present in and around the river, as evidenced by the traces they leave.

These animals include turtles, beavers, river otters, blue herons, and various species of fish.

Deer also cross the river, Buehler said.

“When the river is low, they jump from sandbank to sandbank,” she said. “They’ll swim a bit, then run and cross the river.”

A record number of 24 active bald eagle nests along the river has been documented this year by a network of eagle nest watch volunteers, Watkins said.

He said he had worked with or volunteered for the US Fish and Wildlife Service since 1989 to help document active bald eagle nesting territories throughout Kansas, and maintained a database of these. nests.

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“A fun and hardworking group of people”

The river has also seen an increase in recent years in the number of companies renting kayaks and canoes to river users, or offering to guide them, Buehler said.

Friends of the Kaw provides a list on his website of nine companies that offer this type of service.

Buehler also said the Friends of Kaw:

• Work to fortify and protect the river banks by planting trees and native plants.

• Seeks to ensure that the state provides sufficient funding to ensure the quantity and quality of water resources.

• Engage in discussions about “anything that will impact the river,” including potential riverside development.

• Found groups committed to picking up garbage and discouraging dumping at the three boat ramps on the Topeka River. These are at Kaw River State Park near the intersection of NE Seward and Goodell and at the spillway just north of the town’s water treatment plant at 3245 NW Waterworks Drive.

Buehler encouraged anyone interested in Friends of the Kaw to visit his website at or his Facebook site.

“We are a fun, hardworking bunch of people who only care about our outdoor space,” she said.

The Friends of Kaw Facebook site provides more details on next month’s 30th anniversary celebration, for which a donation of $ 50 or more is requested to attend.

The event will take place on a sandbar if the Kansas River is low enough, and on land if it isn’t, Buehler said.

The celebration will include food, beer, live music, the screening of a documentary on the history of the Friends of Kaw and – if the event takes place on a sandbar – a bonfire, a said Buehler.

Tickets are available for purchase on the Kaw’s Friends Facebook Site.


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