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History of FOK


From August 1991 – 1997 Friends of the Kaw (FOK) was formed by several residents of north Lawrence who successfully mounted public support and obtained denial of four proposed sand dredging permits in a pristine section of the Kansas River (also referred to as the Kaw) between the communities of Lecompton and Lawrence, Kansas. In the spring of 1995, FOK assembled over two hundred people to attend a hearing concerning an application for an in-river dredge permit north of Lawrence before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) at the Perry-Lecompton High School amid heavy rains and tornadoes. The COE denied the permit citing the recreational value of the Kaw in this reach as one of the primary reasons. Because of this success Friends of the Kaw gained more members and incorporated in 1997. We received our 501c3 status in 1997.


While Friends of the Kaw’s mission is to protect and preserve the Kaw for present and future generations we have found the best tool to accomplish our goal is to actually get folks out on the river in boats. In 1995 Friends of the Kaw (FOK) organized the first of several Fall Educational Float Trips between Lecompton and Lawrence in an effort to firmly establish recreational use of this section of the Kansas River. On a Saturday and Sunday in late September or early October members guided between 50 and 200 people per day on a 16 mile float starting at Perry Dam on the Delaware River and ending on the Kaw at Lawrence River Front Park. All our floats featured “Sandbar Seminars” that educated the participants on many issues and problems that faced the Kaw. This was a very popular event but the organization of such a mammoth float trip took its toll on the small group of organizers and in 2001 the FOK Board of Directors decided to plan a series of float trips on different sections of the Kaw for 20 to 30 participants per trip.

In 2006 FOK obtained a canoe trailer that will transport 10 canoes and thanks to many folks we have acquired over 10 canoes. We also purchased a smaller trailer that will transport 7 boats. In 2010 we will be adding 4 sit-on-top double kayaks to our fleet – thanks to a grant from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation. At the present time we focus on scheduling trips for community, church and scout groups of 16 to 20 people. The group picks the date, time and section to paddle. We open these trips two weeks prior to the date so the general public may rent any available canoes or kayaks. We also have the Kansas River Access Map page on our web site that identifies, describes and gives directions to public access points on the Kaw for those who are comfortable planning their own excursions. Pictured below are Laura Cawell, President (1999-2002) & Mollie Mangerich, President (2003-2006).


In 1996 three members of FOK (Lance Burr, Mike Calwell and Patty Boyer) spent many days in February, March and April voluntarily lobbying a bill in the Kansas Legislature asking for a moratorium on any new in-river sand dredging operations. This bill passed in the Senate but was defeated in the House. All was not lost as the Legislature included funding in the Omnibus Bill for a "Recreational Study of the Kansas River" which when presented in 1997, showed that the state of Kansas could economically benefit by developing the Kansas River for recreational tourism. Pictured left are Lance Burr, founding member and President (1996-1998); Patty Boyer, founding member; Mike Calwell standing in front of Friend and Kaw street sign in Cottonwood Falls, KS.


One of the biggest problems with developing recreational tourism on the Kaw has been the lack of public access. After unsuccessfully persuading the state of Kansas to design and construct boat ramps accessing the Kaw, the Board of Directors decided it would try a different tack. Our goal was to have public access every ten miles along the 171 miles of the Kaw and we are very close to meeting that goal. Prior to 2003 there were only three access ramp on the Kaw with several more on tributaries. Many times paddlers accessed the Kaw under bridges where they likely found treacherous footing and muddy banks. In 2002 with a goal in place, FOK was awarded a $3,000 grant from the Federation of Fly Fishermen to begin planning and construction of a boat ramp to the Kaw in St. George, KS (just 10 miles east of Manhattan.) Mike Calwell spearheaded this project and assisted the city of St. George in obtaining the necessary permits, getting materials and heavy equipment donated and recruiting volunteers to do the labor. In the spring of 2003 the ramp in St. George was dedicated. The city of St. George continued to develop the adjoining river front park and today this is a very popular picnic and access spot. By directly involving the community in the planning and construction of the access ramp not only was the cost considerably less than a State-funded project, but the community took ownership and pride in their new city amenity.

The St. George ramp project became the model for other access ramps and riverfront parks on the Kaw. In 2004 the ramp at Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kansas was constructed and Friends of Kaw Point Park was formed under the umbrella of Friends of the Kaw. Friends of Kaw Point Park is now a separate 501C3 and continues to raised thousands of dollars to develop the Lewis and Clark Historic Park at Kaw Point. In 2005, the state of Kansas joined the effort and constructed an access ramp to the Kaw just northwest of the Lecompton Bridge. In 2006 two communities worked with Friends of the Kaw and ramps and riverfront parks were constructed in both Edwardsville and DeSoto, KS and another ramp was finished under the Highway 177 Bridge in Manhattan. In 2008 we worked with the community of Wamego and added an access ramp to an existing city park just northwest of the Highway 99 Bridge across the Kaw. In 2009 we added an access ramp to Grant Park in Junction City on the Republican River just up stream from the confluence with the Kaw. In 2010 access ramps and a river front park will be added on the north side of the Topeka Water weir (coffer dam) in west Topeka. There will be an access ramp both above and below the dam and public access over the levee and a parking lot will also be added. Currently plans are underway to construct access ramps on the Kaw in Ogden, Kaw River State Park in Topeka and under the Turner Bridge in Kansas City, KS. Access ramps are being considered at the Maple Hill and Willard Bridge as well as between the Cedar Creek and Edwardsville ramp in Shawnee. Wahoo – our goal is close to being met!

FOK has also worked with WaterOne of Johnson County and the City of Topeka Water Division to construct portage around the existing coffer dams near the respective water intakes on the Kaw.   Bowersock Mills and Power Company will improve the portage around Bowersock Dam in Lawrence when and additional hydrological power plant is added to the north bank of the Kaw in the next several year.

Friends of the Kaw’s success on this project has been driven by Mike Calwell, Board Member. Mike’s expertise has also been recognized by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) – another significant partner in the construction of Kaw River access. Friends of the Kaw would like to thank both Mike and KDPW for their dedication in planning and building access ramps on the Kaw River. Friends of the Kaw also appreciates all the donations of supplies, expertise and labor by individuals, businesses and city and county governments to make this project a reality.


In 2000, Friends of the Kaw (FOK) applied for membership in the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international water protection organization headed by Robert Kennedy, Jr. We were accepted and are now joined by 160 organizations that hire a non-governmental advocate for our water body which used the trademark “Keeper” name. We hired Dave Murphy as the first Kansas Riverkeeper who served as a tireless and effective advocate for the Kaw from January of 2001 to May of 2003. During Dave’s tenure we lobbied against Senate Bill 204, unaffectionately known as the “Dirty Water Bill”, which in effect took about 1/3 of the small streams in western Kansas out of state protection. Dave promoted FOK and awareness of the Kansas River in many presentations, worked to end in-river sand and gravel dredging and responded to many pollution reports in the watershed of the Kaw.

In April of 2002 FOK hosted Robert Kennedy, Jr. for a press conference and the launching of the Kansas Riverkeeper patrol boat at the the undeveloped Kaw Point area. When asked by the press what he thought of the area Mr. Kennedy said “I see a squandered resource.” This statement helped foster the transformation of Kaw Point from a junk yard to one of the most beautiful parks in the area. Mr. Kennedy also spoke later that day at a fundraiser to support the Kansas Riverkeeper at the historic Grinter House on the north side of the Kaw in Kansas City, KS.

In August of 2003, Laura Calwell, past president of FOK, was hired to serve as the second Kansas Riverkeeper. Her first task was to organize opposition to the reauthorization by the Corps of Engineers (COE) of twelve in-river sand and gravel dredge permits on the Kaw and garner public support for public hearing by encouraging hundreds of Kansans to make a written request. In October 2003 at the close of public comment period, the COE had received over 350 comments all but one have asked for a public hearing and the majority have asked for proposed permits to be denied. Because of the controversy the COE asked for guidance from the State of Kansas and while permits were not approved dredging companies were allowed to continue mining sand. A Technical Advisory Committee composed of representatives from only state and federal agencies was formed to study the causes of degradation to the bed and banks of the Kansas River. Over the next year Laura monitored these meetings as well as attended to the day to day business for Friends of the Kaw.

In January of 2005 FOK, the Kansas Riverkeeper and other parties also successfully petitioned the Kansas Water Authority to approve the continuation of the Technical Advisory Committee with the addition of stakeholder groups to study the causes of Kansas River bed and bank degradation and make recommendations to the State. This Committee is still studying this subject and has been successful in getting funding to begin a baseline study of the Kaw. Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper, is a member of this committee as a stakeholder representing FOK. In 2007 Laura was also elected and approved as a member of the Kansas Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee representing recreational interests. The Basin Advisory Committee keeps apprised of issues effecting the Lower Republican and Kansas River and makes recommendations to the Kansas Water Authority.

The Kansas Riverkeeper’s primary duty is to be the eyes, ears and voice for the Kaw which entails monitoring local, state and national regulations effecting surface water and responding to pollution reports from our web site and Pollution Hotline 1 866 RIV KEEP. The Kansas Riverkeeper also organizes and guides float trips on the Kaw, assists in fundraising and grant writing, event planning, and communicates with our members and the public via email, newsletters, phone conversations and press releases. The FOK Board of Directors is responsible for setting goals and fundraising and greatly assists the Riverkeeper in carrying out the mission of our organization.

In 2007 Friends of the Kaw began working with Dr. Cynthia Annett on a daily basis to assist the Kansas Riverkeeper as Science Advisor and in grant writing. Dr. Annett’s expertise and dedication to our mission has resulted in our outstanding web site as well as success in obtaining grants. Dr. Annett has brought scientific credibility to our organization as well as a wealth of ideas to promote and carry out our mission.

We are currently very fortunate to be working with Virginia Annett, our education and evaluation consultant; Nasbah Ben & Temashio Anderson, web and graphic designers; Heidi Mehl, a graduate intern working on the Kaw River Inventory; and Shawna Meyer, an administrative assistant intern from Brown Mackie College. We also are very fortunate to have the services of K-State Professors Dr. Jim Steichen advising on the Kansas River Inventory project and Dr. Rhonda Janke advising on the Johnson County Stormwater Education grant.


Friends of the Kaw (FOK) have been very successful in writing grants to create the Kansas River Atlas. This is a web based, interactive guide to the Kaw that includes indentifying watersheds; explaining pollution problems; featuring natural, historic, cultural and recreational sites and providing information on how businesses and residents can protect and preserve the Kaw. The Kansas River Atlas was originally funded by grants from the Topeka Community Foundation, the Rice Foundation and an Environmental Justice Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. These funds helped develop the original concept of the Kansas River Atlas as well as the information for the middle and lower Kaw on point source (end of the pipe) pollution. The Environmental Justice Grant also funded a Fish Consumption Guide. The Fish Consumption Guide was targeted for use in the two areas on the Kaw that had state-issues Fish Consumption Advisories.

In 2007 with funds from the Kansas Health Foundation FOK developed a non-point source pollution (pollution from run-off) section as well as updating of the present web site. FOK also received funds from the Kansas Humanities Council to develop a section titled “Life on the Kaw” which will feature historical and cultural information. The Kansas River Atlas is a work in progress and we continue to upgrade and expand information in this section.


In the spring of 2007 FOK decided to begin a base line inventory of the River. This effort will produce a comprehensive, GIS enabled database for use by FOK and others. It will help us pursue our broad based mission to protect and preserve the Kansas River for present and future generations. The inventory will identify areas in need of monitoring, cleanup and /or restoration and also the location of physical structures on the Kaw such as: pipes discharging to the Kaw, (are they permitted or illegal?); bridges, dams and weirs; bank stabilization projects; intakes for water supplies; intakes for power plants; outfalls from waste water treatment facilities; outfalls from industrial facilities and storm sewers; outfalls from dredging operations; agricultural drainage tiles; and crossings for power line and underwater cables.

This project will compile the FIRST accessible, comprehensive inventory existing for the Kansas River. It will provide invaluable, first hand information to be used for watershed assessment that is a long term process system to record and track information. The information will be useful to address specific needs, define goals and create and implement action plans for protection or restoration of the Kaw watershed. The goal is to have public access to the inventory via the Kansas River Atlas and we have funding from the Kingsbury Family Foundation to get the first version on line by fall of 2010.