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Group fighting to protect 600 acres of woodland must convince school district first

Posted: 6:11 PM, Feb 01, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-01 19:12:08-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a busy, growing metro like Kansas City, you wouldn't think more than 600 acres of woodland would be in the middle of it all. 

One group is worried that same growth might destroy the land they've dubbed the "Last KC Forest."  

"I just thought, this is a really special place in Kansas City," the leader of the group, Julie Stutterheim, said. 

Stutterheim lives right next to the forest that sits just east of Lake Waukomis between Barry Road and 68th Street. She noticed how beautiful the land was when she started walking the Line Creek Trail with friends and her daughters. 

She's started an initiative to protect it. 

"We have to recognize green spaces like those are just as important as places that give us profit," Stutterheim said. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation helped her designate the area as a forest with a healthy ecosystem. 

The issue at hand is balancing a growing school district with the beauty of nature. 

"People are also worried that their children are going to be in mobile units for classrooms and that their children are in schools that are overcrowded," Paul Kelly with the Park Hill School District explained. 

The district bought around 300 acres of the forest in response to its steady growth. In some of their schools, kids are already learning in mobile units. 

The district will start construction on its 11th elementary school off 68th Street. Northeast of that, its new "Lead Innovation Studio" will go up in the next couple years, which will give personalized learning to high school students.  

Depending on how much the district grows, there could be a third Park Hill high school built next to the Lead site. 

Nothing is planned for the rest of the district's land yet. 

The woods north of the district's land is also privately owned. 

"What they've done is earmarked it for future development or sale," Stutterheim said. "We've asked them to look at conserving this area and doing a conservation easement." 

Stutterheim said her group is 100 percent behind the elementary school because it's needed, but they're asking city leaders and the district to reconsider the high school. 

The district said any of their projects would be built in a sustainable, green way. 

Stutterheim and her 6,000 supporters, who have signed a petition to conserve the forest, said leaders can't ignore their voices.

"We are incorporating both voices in this, which is, we're using the land. We've planned it appropriately to conserve as much of it as possible as well as being able to provide classrooms and space for kids to learn," Kelly said. 

Kelly wants people to remember the land is private, so they can essentially do what they want with it. 

The city plays a part in conservation as well. A 2011 plan outlined a project to put a four-lane parkway that would cut through the middle of the forest and would eradicate many trees. The city had also talked about using some of the forest and turning it into residential and mixed-use spaces. 

Councilman Dan Fowler said nothing has happened with those plans, and he's going to introduce a resolution that would get rid of the parkway plan altogether. He added the city wouldn't have any say in what private owners decide to do. 

"Once we decide to do this, it's not something we can turn back from," Stutterheim warned. 

To see Stutterheim's petition, visit  https://www.change.org/p/preserve-the-line-creek-forest

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