Friends of the Kaw

Here's a Q&A with Friends of the Kaw

You can also check out their website at

1.  So tell me about Friends of the Kaw.

Friends of the Kaw (FOK) is a nonprofit, grassroots environmental organization whose mission is to protect and preserve the Kansas River (locally known as the “Kaw”) for all generations.  We advocate the rehabilitation of the Kaw’s water quality and wildlife habitat, promote compatible public recreational uses of the Kaw, and encourage the development of adequate public access.

2.  What do you actually do and why is it important?

The Kaw is the world's longest prairie river, with a watershed that drains over 53,000 square miles in Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado. Over 800,000 people depend on the Kaw for drinking water. We strive to protect this resource as it is crucial for the health of so many communities in the Midwest. Our promotion of recreation on the Kaw and the development of boat ramps along its 170 miles is how we initiate a connection between people and their local waterway. We believe these same people who experience the river will become advocates for its protection.

3.  How many people do you have working for FOK?

Friends of the Kaw is the only environmental organization in the state of Kansas that has a full-time, paid, non-governmental advocate - the Kansas Riverkeeper.  Laura Calwell, in her role as Riverkeeper, works as a teacher, scientist, investigator and media spokesperson. She coordinates all activities of Friends of the Kaw with the supervision and assistance of the Board of Directors and communicates and cooperates with the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, city and county governments and the community in general on pollution problems concerning the Kansas River.  Our board members and organization members consist of volunteers dedicated to helping us carry out our mission and assist in projects that include a wide variety of work from fundraising to float trips.

4.  What is the biggest threat to Kansas River?

American Rivers has named the Kaw as one of the “Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers” many times due to the threat that sand and gravel dredging poses to clean water. FOK’s methods and vision have broadened since our organization began in 1991, but dredging remains our core issue. We continue to combine our resources to oppose permitting for the remaining in-river dredging operations and encourage these operations to move to appropriately-located off-river pit mines. Last summer the Kansas River was designated as a National Water Trail by Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. We are happy that this designation will provide additional resources and attention to our endangered river.

5.  So tell us about some new things you've got going on?

We have a variety of fun annual events that will be held which include our River City Cook-Off in Lawrence (as well as a new cook-off scheduled this spring in Shawnee!), our Wild & Scenic Film Festival, the Annual Dinner & Silent Auction, and a number of fair-weather float trips which are already being booked. Check them out on our website!

6.  If someone wants to get involved, what can they do?

Becoming a member is easy! We have an introductory special of $15 for new members and renewing annual membership dues are a minimum of $35 per year. By joining us you receive our bi-annual newsletter "Kansas River Currents" to inform you of float trips, volunteer opportunities, current advocacy campaigns and other related events and news. You may also sign up to receive our email newsletter several times a month from the Kansas Riverkeeper. Members are always welcome to join scheduled float trips on the Kaw and we can rent a canoe if we have extras or you are welcome to bring your own boat.

We also encourage members to suggest organizations that may be interested in hearing a presentation on the Kansas River and help put us in contact with the leaders of those organizations.  In the past we have presented to church groups, civic groups, youth groups and other nonprofits.  We would like to share our new community mapping program with as many groups as possible - this information will be integrated into Friends of the Kaw's River Inventory.

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