Chasing the Channel Blog

Advocacy…at the heart of what we do.

Fall is a spectacular time on the Kaw. If you’ve experienced it, you know what I’m talking about. This is also an incredibly busy time of the year for us at Friends of the Kaw, but who am I kidding, it is busy all year long. The river never takes a break from needing to be protected. That said, the fall is a great time to help people connect to the Kansas River and we have had a busy month doing just that.

Eudora Community Paddle on the Kaw
Photo by Dawn Buehler

We normally have wait lists for our events, but this year has been unlike any other. I think with the pressures of the COVID pandemic, people are looking for ways to spend their time outdoors and find new ways to explore. We held a Pop-Up Paddle, two Beginner’s Paddle Events and a Community Paddle at Eudora in the last month and every one of them had a wait list. One of them had 95 people on the wait list…let me say that again, 95 people. I think this speaks not to necessarily the popularity of Friends of the Kaw, but more to the place we are in as a world in the middle of a pandemic. We all need connection – with each other and with nature – and paddling on a river is one way to do that! We have a few more events coming up this fall and we hope you can join us and experience the beauty of Kansas only seen from the Kansas River.

Kansas River sandbar art.
Photo by Dawn Buehler

I’ve been busy with my many advocacy related activities and boards where I represent the Kansas River in my role as Kansas Riverkeeper. I am on the Stakeholder Leadership Team for the Lower Kansas WRAPS (Water Restoration and Protection Strategy) and I’m happy to report that the group is gaining ground on delisting Stranger Creek for bacteria. We aren’t there yet, but this group is making great progress with cover crops and alternate watering systems to keep cattle out of the waterways. You can learn more about this work from our friends at Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams here: https://kaws.org/ourwork/watersheds/lkr/.

I also Chair the Kansas Regional Advisory Committee for the Kansas Water Vision. We recently updated our goals and action plans for the Kansas River basin and presented them to the Kansas Water Authority. I have worked on this committee for 5 years and it is by far some of the most impactful work that I do in terms of finding ways to protect our water quality and quantity. I will write more about our work on this committee in the new year but for now you can read up on the state’s Water Vision here: https://kwo.ks.gov/water-vision-water-plan/water-vision.

What a full month of advocacy! Another project where we represent the river is on the Sustainable Rivers Program. This is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the Corps of Engineers to reoperate Corps dams to find more ecological flows while still meeting downstream needs. We had a two day online call to do a workshop on this program. I am happy to say that this program has the greatest opportunity to have long term benefits to the Kansas River ecosystem! You can learn more about this program here: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/protect-water-and-land/land-and-water-stories/sustainable-rivers-project/. Friends of the Kaw is on the Steering Committee for this program and proud to be a part of it!

Sandbars are back on the Kansas River!
Photo by Dawn Buehler

On top of all of those advocacy activities this month, we still find violations on the Kansas River. I have numerous violations that are being reported – from new dump sites to dredge cables that are left up, to discharges that look suspicious. Join us in keeping an eye on the river and if you see anything suspicious, you can report it directly to Kansas Department of Health and Environment, but please also contact us so that we can keep the pressure on to get it cleaned up. You can email riverkeeper@kansasriver.org. We are all in this together!

As always, if we can help you connect to the Kansas River, you know where to find us. Email, call, social media – or simply find us on the river. We are always happy to help.

May you always have sand in your shoes….

For the river,
Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper

Somebody has to do it….

Somebody has to do it….

These last couple of weeks have felt less like a sweltering Kansas August and more like the onset of fall. I don’t let it fool me…I’ve lived in Kansas my whole life and know well enough that we are not done with 90 degree days! I am a child of summer, so I’m always hoping for summer to hang on a little while longer. Every season holds something special here in Kansas…because we truly get 4 seasons. For me, the best season on the Kaw is fall. Oh, beautiful fall! There is something quite spectacular about starting the day with a light jacket as you slowly push off onto the cool air of the river. By mid morning, you are taking layers off and feeling the warmth of the sun. But the evening….the evening is where the Kaw showcases the magic. A Kansas River sandbar on a cool evening with a campfire, friends, stories and then a peaceful rest in the coolness of the river’s edge. Those are the days of magic, friends.

Last weekend, the river finally dropped as the Corps of Engineers dropped the outflows at Milford as it got closer to conservation pool. Those of us that are on the Kaw regularly know where all of the big trash resides and we know that it is our duty to get it off the river. So with a team of our Kaw River Guides, we made a last minute decision to get on the river at Ogden and go after a few big ticket items that we’ve been eager to get off of our beautiful river. So off we went…with chainsaws, contractor trash bags, gloves, and a lot of determination.

Shoveling mud at the Ogden Boat Ramp

Our first job of the day was to shovel the Ogden Boat Ramp – by hand! The river has dropped, so often the communities have not had a chance to clean it. We try to always carry a shovel for this reason and thankfully we had one and blazed a path through the deep and thick muck. We shoved off with plans to get a hot tub just downstream of the Ogden ramp and we were hoping it was still there. And…yes, it was. And it was encased in mud and even had grass growing around it. We found an eddy on the backside to steady our boats and went to work with a chainsaw. We were able to remove about half of the hot tub and the rest will have to wait until the river drops significantly, but we will be back for it! We had made last minute arrangements with a Game Warden that we’ve worked with before to come and help us get all of the trash off the river, so we stacked all of the debris on a sandbar to wait for our return the next day.

Empty septic tank on an island in the river.

We headed on to our sandbar for our overnight stay, with plans to get what we really coveted to get off the river – a septic tank that has been on an island for the better part of 2 years. When we arrived at our sandbar for the night, there we found a water heater and some tire rims, so all of us together used our tie down straps to make a sling so that we could carry the water heater to the water’s edge and make sure it would be easy for the Game Warden to retrieve.

More items found on our sandbar for the night!

We enjoyed one of those spectacular Kaw evenings on the sandbar. We had a fire, friendship, and we laughed at stories from the KAW 173. One of our many jokes is that if there is a chance that rain will find us, it will! And we could not believe that with a zero percent chance of rain, we woke at 6:00 AM to the sound of thunder! Ahh….we are so use to it, that we got up and made coffee and then hunkered back down in our tents to let it pass. We had big plans ahead for the septic tank but we were in no hurry. We were getting that septic tank!

Kaw sandbar fire!

We shoved off later that morning and we only had about a mile to go to reach the island with the septic tank. We knew the island was a very muddy spot and did not have a lot of sand and it had just rained, so this was going to be a mess. It is amazing what you get use to when you spend a lot of time in rivers.

Thank you to Game Warden Gehrt with Kansas Dept. of Wildlife Parks & Tourism for transporting all of our trash off the river!

The septic tank was there, perched high above the island and surrounded mostly by driftwood. With our handy chainsaw and some skilled Kaw River Guides, we dismantled the septic tank into pieces and stacked it up for the Game Warden’s arrival. Not long after finishing our work, Game Warden Gehrt with Kansas Dept. of Wildlife Parks & Tourism arrived! We loaded all of the plastic from the septic tank and also loaded two of our Kaw River Guides to go along and help with unloading and then also loading the rest of our trash haul. Everything was transported to the Fairmont Park boat ramp in Manhattan and the next day it was taken to the landfill by the Riley Co. Parks Department! Talk about teamwork…that’s how things get done!

Our trash haul at the Fairmont Park boat ramp in Manhattan. The next day, Riley Co. Parks & Recreation came and took it all to the landfill, thank you so much!

Friends of the Kaw has been the only non-profit dedicated to cleaning up the Kaw for almost three decades. I am proud to carry on the work of those before me. What makes this all happen though, is a team of dedicated volunteers and partners all up and down the river. We can all cleanup up the Kaw together – one cleanup day at a time. Somebody has to do it, why not us?

Anyone can join us a Kaw River Guide if you have your own boat and gear, just reach out and get involved. Even if you don’t have a boat, but want to join us, we have bank cleanups too. It doesn’t matter if you can give one hour, or every weekend…we are grateful for any gift of your time. Contact me and I will be happy to get you included in our communications.

I hope that I say enough how grateful I am to our volunteers and partners – you all know that we could not do all that we do without them, right? What a great group of people we have that are committed to this journey with us. Every day I get up and love my job…but these folks make it so much easier!

The Kaw is looking spectacular this weekend…the river is dropping and the sandbars are emerging. The weather looks perfect! Let me know if I can help you connect to the Kansas River . Call or email with questions about flows, ramps, sections, camping – whatever it is, we want to help you find your own adventure on the Kaw! PS…don’t forget your lifejacket!

May you always have sand in your shoes…

For the river,

Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper

Reflections on Chasing the 173-Mile-Long Channel

Reflections on Chasing the 173-Mile-Long Channel

Photo by Lisa Grossman

When we arrived at beautiful Kaw Point Park in Kansas City, there were so many emotions. I was thankful that we all made it, thankful that everyone was healthy, thankful that my own body completed the tasks, and thankful for 9 days of memories that will see me through the coldest days of winter.

I was also very grateful and overjoyed to see so many people at Kaw Point Park. This beautiful park only became a park thanks to the efforts of a non-profit (Friends of Kaw Point Park), started by our very own Mike Calwell, and a board of dedicated river lovers. Mike would have loved our arrival at Kaw Point.

We were greeted by many of our long time members, staff and board members, but the one that made my heart so happy was to see former Kansas Riverkeeper, Laura Calwell, there to greet us. She worked long and hard for the Kansas River for so many years. She has continued to support our work and continued, to this day, to be a mentor to me in our work for the Kansas River.

Photo by David Sain
Eagle tracks, dragging a carp. One of our daily investigations on the sandbar!

If I was to be totally honest here, I was not ready to get off the river. I enjoyed the peacefulness of no news and the absolute bonding of friendships that occurred on our journey. I did not want to leave the sandbar fire talks, the investigation each evening of animal tracks, the laughter, the sharing of joy and frustration, sleeping in my little tent with everything I need tucked inside, paddling along the banks of the Kaw and observing wildlife peacefully living in their home, and the absolute freedom of paddling a river and going wherever you want. No, I did not want to leave…but I did miss my husband, family and my labrador retrievers. My husband and I joke that it’s really about the dogs! But I’m truthfully ready to go back and get lost in the peacefulness of the Kaw once again.

I enjoyed every minute of the KAW 173….and I hope that you did too. Thank you for following along. Our hope is that you saw the beauty and that you saw that the river is more you ever imagined. We hope you saw that there are still wild spaces in Kansas and most of you drive over it every day. We hope that you will plan your own adventure on the Kansas River – and we hope you give us a call or send an email – and let us know how we can help you connect to the Kansas River. Our tag line is…protect, advocate, discover…and that’s what we hope you do too.

Thanks for following along…join me sometime to “Chase the Channel”…until then, I’ll be on the river.

For the river,

Dawn Buehler

Kansas Riverkeeper & Executive Director

KAW 173 – Day 9

KAW 173 – Day 9

River Mile 19 and kayaked 19 miles to River Mile 0 on the Kansas River Water Trail.

I woke early and couldn’t sleep. I think the anticipation of the day ahead kept my mind from settling down. We had stayed on a beautiful, big sandbar with trees and the morning sounds were amazing as we were also greeted with a gorgeous sunrise that blanketed the sky.


Today was going to be epic, at least for the 7 of us. We spent a lot of time planning, discussing, and preparing our mind and bodies for this trip. Everyone on this team is between the ages of 40 and 62. I think one of the best stories of this trip is that we all made it and so can you. You don’t have to be 20, you can do it at any age if you prepare and have a good mindset. It helps to have great teammates too.

I know that when I reflect on this journey in the future, I will remember how strong I felt, how determined, and how proud I am of myself and my river friends. We did it. We kayaked all 173 miles of the Kansas River Water Trail!

I need to thank my teammates. They pushed me, themselves and each others when we needed it. They put up with my incessant planning and organizing and drive to not miss an opportunity for advocacy and awareness. They participated in the public events like champs and dealt with all of my nit picky details. All of us have our quirks and I’m thankful they put up with mine!


We would not have had such a successful outreach, media campaign, food stops and execution of our plan if it wasn’t for our Program Manager, Kim Bellemere. She not only went above and beyond every single day, but she did it with a smile. Thank you to her husband for cleaning the mud on the Topeka boat ramp when no one else did and for helping nightly with gear and water checks.

Thanks to the FOK Board, for always supporting my crazy ideas. And to Marcia for being the glue stick and my soul sister. To Lisa, you make it all easy.


Last and certainly not least, to my husband Dennis, that does absolutely everything that I ask. You are my heart.

KAW 173 Team ❤️

To “Steady, My Favorite, Mr. Gadget, Sugar Cookie, Sherpa and my Soul Sister”…you have my eternal gratitude and love.


With love for my friends and the Kansas River,


Dawn, Your Kansas Riverkeeper