Changes in Store for Hidden Valley Natural Area
by Doris Sherrick

Demonstrating the building of a debris dam to control erosion.
Photo by Jimmi Lossing
Exploring, enjoying and protecting Hidden Valley Natural Area (HVNA) will become easier in the future as new hiking and accessible trails are constructed, erosion control features are put in place, and work to eliminate invasive exotic species continues.
Sustainable Trail Building 101.
Photo by Jimmi Lossing
These changes planned for Hidden Valley are becoming a reality as a result of a grant from Kansas City’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) that was awarded for the purpose of developing a master plan for the Natural Area as well as for Hidden Valley Park. This grant made it possible to contract with The Big Muddy Workshop Inc. Landscape Architects/Interpretive Planners, Omaha, Nebraska to develop a master plan for the area that would address the erosion problems caused by illegal motorized activity and head cutting of the main stream and tributaries; improve public access by creating some hard-surfaced accessible trails; creating a sustainable trail system with minimal impact; creating a single track hiking trail that can be constructed and maintained with trained volunteers; and protecting the natural and cultural resources of the area. Educational features are also a component of the plan.

The proposal for Hidden Valley Park north of Russell Road addresses recreational needs for the families residing in the many multifamily developments surrounding the park. Picnic areas with a shelter house, playground, Frisbee golf course and more easily accessed athletic fields have been proposed for that area while a prairie reconstruction adjacent to the Natural Area is currently underway. This proposal has been submitted to Kansas City Parks and Recreation for their approval.

Green Dragon .
Photo by Claus Wawrzinek
If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Hidden Valley, you might wonder what the fuss is all about. Well, Hidden Valley is a very special place. If you hike the trails in Hidden Valley in the spring you will find delightful spring ephemerals such as jack-in-the-pulpit, green dragon, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lily, bellwort etc., in bloom and a variety of ferns. You may find a turkey feather on the trail. You will most surely spot deer and possibly other mammal tracks. Newly emerging leaves of the very old white oak, sugar maples, red oaks, pawpaws, shagbark hickories and others will give a green tint to the air. In contrast, a fall hike will be very showy with all the colors those trees contribute to the forest as their leaves change from green to red, gold, orange and purple. But, whatever the season when you visit HVNA, you will surely experience solitude you did not think possible so close to heavily traveled highways and developments. When you are in Hidden Valley, don’t forget to take a look at the soil beneath your feet, as it too is special. It is the result of the wind-blown silt that collected in mounds at the end of the last glacial era and has unique qualities.

The Thomas Hart Benton Group Sierra Club has a particular interest in HVNA since the Group adopted the area through its partnership with Kansas City WildLands about five years ago. Kansas City WildLands is a coalition of resource professionals, private conservation organizations and conservation-minded citizens working to protect, restore and preserve the remnant natural communities in the Kansas City metropolitan area so future generations can experience and learn about the presettlement landscape. This goal is carried out by providing education to the community and involving community volunteers in the activities necessary to protect, restore and preserve these high quality ecological treasures. By adopting Hidden Valley, the THB Group serves as an advocate for the Natural Area and works to educate the community about Hidden Valley and the need to work for its protection and preservation. THB members also schedule and participate in workdays to eliminate the invasive exotic plants such as shrub honeysuckle and wintercreeper, pickup trash, enjoy hikes and report unauthorized motor activity.

Recently, Big Muddy Workshop, Inc. held a workshop in HVNA to train Kansas City Park and Recreation personnel and volunteers in trail building and erosion control techniques. This training was put to good use on October 3 when 250 employees from VML, Inc., a Kansas City marketing technology company, volunteered to whack honeysuckle and the Tree-of-Heaven, to build a section of trail, and to install some erosion control features. Thanks to their efforts, the changes in store for HVNA are off to a good start. You will have an opportunity to pitch in and help with these projects by volunteering for the Kansas City WildLands annual workday on November 3. Details for volunteering can be found on page 8. Be sure to mention that you’re a Sierra Club member when you call!