Neighborhood faces natural habitat restoration

By Alec Santaularia

Sophomore Olivia Harding walks through her neighborhood Crimson Ridge, that will undergo habitat restoration.

Sarah Darby, editor-in-chief

Nearly 40 acres of land in the Crimson Ridge neighborhood near 47th Street and K-7 Highway stand to be transformed into a restored natural habitat or conservation parcel based on a proposal from an ecological restoration, for-profit corporation.

Habitat Kansas, a Leawood-based LLC, purchased the entire parcel of land, a fragmented assortment of streamway and forest green space plots, in its entirety at the end of 2011. Now, Habitat Kansas has plans to spend $1.5 million, half to be spent by the end of the year, completing ecological restoration of the land parcels. Work will include efforts to make streamway improvements and restore bio diversification and habitats in the area.

“What we’re doing here is a pretty big risk…But that’s OK because our first and priority goal is species protection,” Habitat Kansas president David Flick said. “Our second goal is finding out how we can be reimbursed for an investment.”

Flick said nearly 300 native species, as opposed to the 75 in the neighborhood now, will ultimately inhabit the area as a result of restoration of woodland prairies and native oak and hickory forests. When the area is fully restored in around 25 years, by Flick’s estimate, Habitat Kansas could sell credits but not acres of the land to builders who must buy ecological credits equivalent to whatever amount of space is environmentally altered in a project, just one state environmental regulation.

The project, which is one of about 30 in the area by various corporations, has received criticism.

The Harding family, that has lived in the Crimson Ridge neighborhood for nearly 12 years, were told by the original owners of the green space that they could treat areas of private property as if it were their own space as long as they didn’t kill living trees or build structures. The Hardings have mowed and maintained a space approximately 100 feet by 60 feet that backs up to one of two forks of a creek that winds through the neighborhood for years, even adding an expensive sprinkler and mosquito repellent system in the green space. Now that space is in jeopardy when the area becomes a restored natural habitat.

“People have already built and landscaped back here,” Renee Harding said. “A new neighborhood already knows they have to avoid it.”

Nine-year resident Dan Moylan, who has maintained an area around 200 feet by 50 feet and has planted two trees, stored firewood and stationed a play set in the area, shares similar concerns.

“I knew I didn’t own all this property, but it will feel like my property is smaller,” Moylan said.

Around 30 residents voiced their concerns at the first of two neighborhood meetings addressing the issue in January.

“There was a considerable amount of outrage and it was mostly his [Flick’s] approach,” city council member and Crimson Ridge resident Jeff Vaught said.

Many residents also expressed concern about the introduction of two small worm snakes into the land as part of the restoration.

“…People probably don’t care about worm snakes, but we have copperheads and rattle[snakes] and you’re creating a habitat for worm snakes and those snakes,” Vaught said.

Sophomore Olivia Harding, however, is not concerned about snakes so much as what change of ownership could mean for kids in the neighborhood. Flick plans to post No Trespassing signs to protect the newly restored areas.

“I’ve gone sledding back there, brought my friends there, climbed trees and built forts and I went swimming in the creek and stuff,” Harding said. “It’d just take away from childhood memories.”

Some residents hope city code will prohibit brush piles, necessary for the snake habitats, in residential areas and afford an easement space between homes and habitat space. Flick will look at creating buffer areas of prairie grass, wildflowers and small trees on a case-by-case basis.

Flick said he expects initial concern from projects and focuses on educating the public.

“If we don’t do it, who will? Ours is a conservation agenda, not a political agenda,” Flick said.

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