A face lift for mother earth

Don’t tell Lloyd Davies of Marion that one person’s efforts can’t make a difference in preserving our earth for future generations.

He knows differently.

During his almost 15 years of volunteering, Davies has organized giant cleanup efforts, stabilized and restored river banks, planted thousands of trees and ignited an appreciation of the environment in countless people of all ages.

Davies’s work with the environment began on a small scale in 1991 when a friend encouraged him to volunteer at a nature center in Swope Park in Kansas City.

“The next month, the volunteer group that supports the nature center there took on a section of the Blue River in Kansas City, adopted it kind of like you adopt a highway,” he said.

“There’s a program in Missouri for adopting Missouri streams and you can do whatever level of help you want from cleaning it up to water-quality testing to bank stabilization and restoration.”

The work with the “stream team” was a perfect fit for Davies.

“I like to play in creeks-that’s my big thing,” he said with a laugh.

He was astonished to find how many others were interested in helping, too.

“It just exploded,” he said. “It got big real quickly. We were rotating through about 2,500 volunteers.”

Their work expanded into the schools. They encouraged classes to start trees and do group plantings.

“We’re talking tens of thousands of trees that got planted,” Davies said.

They also formed a partnership with a Kansas City teacher who had a grant to create a watershed association in the schools.

“So, as part of our stream team, there were 14 school districts doing water quality testing and all kinds of projects in the Kansas City area,” he said.

“It got really big on its own,” Davies said. “I would say, ‘We’re going to do stuff with water quality testing or we’re going to plant a tree to stabilize the bank,’ and people would just show up. The National Guard called me, saying, ‘We saw in the paper you’re doing a cleanup; we’ll bring our toys.’ And they brought all this heavy equipment.”

Davies recently returned to Kansas City for the 15th annual cleanup.

“There were 700 volunteers and TV and radio,” he said. “They just passed four million pounds of trash picked up in 15 years.”

Davies and his family moved to Marion County in 1998 to be closer to family and open a new business, Great Plains Computers & Networking in Marion. He found a great untapped potential for environmental work.

“One thing I saw is that there wasn’t a lot happening in Kansas yet,” he said. “I would have people from all over the state call and ask how you organize a cleanup.”

“I approached Neal Whitaker at the Corps (of Engineers) office here and asked if he was interested in doing a cleanup over at the reservoir. So this is our third year doing it,” he said.

Davies wanted to continue his work with rivers and streams, but found there was no stream organization in Kansas like the one in Missouri.

“So I asked Missouri if we could be a stream team in Kansas,” he said. “The stream team that I started up over there in Swope Park in 1991 was stream team number 175. Our stream team here is 2642. So it’s grown that much.”

Davies’ enthusiasm is contagious and he is an expert at getting other people involved, the younger the better.

Last year, Davies began an informal nature group for kids called “Mud Puppies.” He is currently working with Ginger Becker’s fourth-grade class at Marion Elementary School, and he hopes to expand his work with schools.

“We’ve done a couple nature scavenger hunts where we go out for two hours and try to find what’s there,” he said.

The fourth graders adopted Luta Creek in Marion. When they visited the area after the ice storm, they saw trees missing from the creek bank.

“That’s where the city cut all the trees back because they were into the power line,” Davies said. “The kids just started rioting.”

The students knew that removal of the trees would cause deterioration of the creek bank and damage the health of the river.

“They all wrote letters to the city commission,” he said. “They said, ‘Don’t you know the bank’s going to run away and the police station’s going to float into the river?’

“I talked to Harvey Sanders (Marion city staff) and told him he was going to have a bunch of fourth-graders with pitchforks and torches outside his door real soon.”

Davies was able to report to the students that maples had been planted on the bank in places where they won’t grow into the power lines.

“That’s one of the trees we would plant on a bank like that,” he said. “So that’s a good sign.”

The experience was a great learning opportunity for the students, Davies said.

“Look what these fourth-graders know about that bank now,” he said. “When they grow up they are going to say ‘we won’t just bulldoze that; we have to think twice about it.'”

Finding time for volunteer work in a life busy with business and family activities is sometimes a challenge, Davies said.

“But I’ve got a family that likes to go out and play,” he said. “In fact the kids bug me all the time. My two kids have been my biggest boosters.”

Davies’ wife, Robin, is a long-time environmental volunteer herself. In fact the couple met when both were volunteering at Swope Park.

“I liked playing in the creeks, and she liked the animals,” he said.

Davies said he has seen a lot of change in the 15 years he has been involved in volunteering. Today, people have a better understanding of what needs to be done and why.

“In the back of your mind people knew it wasn’t right that everything was paved or that all the trees were knocked down, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on it,” he said.

Environmentalists have also gotten better at making the financial case for projects.

“Yes, people want to save the water and the banks and make sure there are animals here, but what’s really convincing to people is seeing it from a practical standpoint,” he said. “Do you want the dollar outlay later on to keep your park from washing away, or do we just plant trees?”

Environmental issues have moved into the mainstream and become a global concern, Davies said.

“There’s this little segment out there that wants to blow up every dam on the river, and there are the others who want to drive their cars anywhere they want,” he said. “But the big chunk of them in the middle are asking ‘what can I do?’

“It’s like if you build it they will come. They show up. They want a clean creek, they want a clean river. It’s not hard, you just have to give them a little direction.”

Davies said people who get involved will be surprised at how much difference their work will make. “What’s really amazing to me is how fast things recover if you plant some trees or stop dumping the trash,” he said. “We put about 1,000 trees in one area in the park and within three years we had deer in there and birds nesting. There was tangible stuff happening that you could see in a real short period of time.”

He encourages everyone to step in and get involved.

“Pick out what you want to work with,” he said. “It may be a creek in your back yard or the town park. Look around and see what you want to tackle.”

“We do a cleanup every year at the reservoir. We’ll put you down on a list for next year.”

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