Like unexpectantly finding a diamond in the rough, a multi-jurisdictional study to determine the routing of a proposed East-West high traffic roadway has uncovered a rare gem. The location of this find is in SoutheastJohnsonCounty, generally in the area that straddles 179th street, between Stateline road and US-69. The gem’s setting is the scenic little blue river watershed. Its beauty can’t be encapsulated into a single focal point because it’s the shear size and the rugged terrain that make it magical. What makes it rare is that very little development exists upon it. What makes it special is that diverse populations of wildlife consider it home; they require large territories. This is the setting for a possible regional scale wildlife preserve. Projected population growth over the next couple of decades prompted a study to determine a route for a new road, a southern connection between US-69 in Kansas and CassCounty. However, it is that same growth that will make these parcels of land in this part of the county, if left undivided by this proposed trafficway, a unique and valuable wildlife preserve; an asset for the entire community to be proud of.
My experience has been that any time a new major roadway is proposed in JohnsonCounty, those who are in its path become very passionate about opposing it. However, the effectiveness of the opposition is often marginalized because they succumb to the old “prisoner’s dilemma” game. The first neighborhood that makes a deal gets the best deal, leaving the next neighborhood stuck with a new trafficway.
But this Camp Creek watershed in SoutheastJohnsonCounty is different. The neighbors are united in opposing this trafficway. So far there isn’t any inter-neighborhood squabbling. Instead the land owners in this watershed want to protect this property in its pristine state into perpetuity. Those with the largest acreage have already begun the preservation process. One has made agreements to donate land to the Nature Conservancy; another is close to doing something similar. One large land owner recently sold land to JohnsonCountyParks and Rec with the stipulation that no ball fields or stadiums be built upon it. Several others are contacting the Kansas Land Trust for similar arrangements. The point is that all these landowners, without government intervention, have decided to preserve their property; the totality of it makes for a huge wildlife preserve.
Twenty years from now, if we resist bisecting this preserve with a high traffic roadway, it could be the laboratory for thousands of local students studying field sciences, environmental sciences, zoology and biology. This could be a park for citizens to observe wildlife in its natural territory. Without a road bisecting it, this could be a preserve in scope and scale like no other in the region.
There are at least 19 endangered species listed in the JohnsonCounty area. I don’t know if any of them exist in this watershed, but I am sure it could support them. Every day thousands of species disappear from the face of the earth; let’s do our part to protect those in our area.
The JohnsonCounty commissioners will soon be making plans to accommodate our projected population growth. They’ll need to decide for this piece of the planet, whether it will be a park or a road. I’m sure they’d like to hear your opinion. Please express it to them soon. My opinion is there may be a need for roads as the population grows in this area, but there is not a need for this particular connector road to CassCounty now or in the future; especially not at the cost of sacrificing a regional wildlife preserve.
As I write this I can’t help hearing a voice in my head that sounds a lot like Joni Mitchell singing, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
JohnsonCounty Wildlife Preserve
By Steve Baru