by Stephen Bybee, Program Director of Missouri Conservation Corps
Missouri Conservation Corps began as a volunteer effort to simply cut and remove the honeysuckle growing in Columbia’s Kiwanis Park. Before our group was formed, now-MCC board member Steve Johnson lived across the street from Kiwanis Park and had been working with some neighbors to clear the honeysuckle. I became involved in this effort in the spring of 2021, and in April 2021 we had our first official workday, drawing over 30 volunteers out to the park to cut, chop, hack and remove honeysuckle from this 20-acre park in midtown Columbia. Because the effort was so successful, and because I find it difficult to start a project without finishing it, we decided to keep on holding workdays in the park. With great support from the Volunteer Columbia office, and from Columbia Parks and Rec, we began planning, promoting and holding workdays in the park throughout the summer and fall of 2021.
As our work in the park gained momentum, we began to partner with service groups in the Columbia area, such as the Kiwanis Club, the Boy Scouts, and the Hickman Biology Club. In late fall of 2021, we decided to pursue nonprofit status, and decided on Missouri Conservation Corps as the name of our group. We currently have a board of directors, and I serve as the Project Director for our group. In 2022 our volunteer workdays in Kiwanis Park continued, and we began to add native plantings to our efforts in the park. It seemed only natural to bring in a few native plants to an area that has just had honeysuckle cut and removed. We held three native plantings in Kiwanis Park in 2022, and the third native planting featured over 30 shrubs and trees from Forest ReLeaf in St. Louis. In December 2022 I was awarded a Columbia Missourian Progress Award in sustainability for the volunteer work we have been accomplishing in Kiwanis Park.
Our initial goal was to cut, treat, and remove honeysuckle in Kiwanis Park. Our goal now also encompasses planting native trees and shrubs in the areas where we have removed honeysuckle, thus taking a landscape full of invasives and returning it to a more native state. In order to accomplish this work, we recruit volunteers from the community. This has led to the secondary goal of using the volunteer workdays to build and strengthen the community and to bring people into Columbia’s parks and public green spaces. We also hope to begin incorporating educational components into our volunteer workdays and have begun to explore ways to benefit the bird population in the park. One of these ways will be to begin a native seeding effort in the park, with the goal being to establish native food sources for the birds, and to hopefully benefit the birds who live in and around Kiwanis Park. Our first native seeding took place on Sunday, February 26th. To measure the success of this seeding effort I would like to find help organizing a bird count in Kiwanis Park. If our native perennials and grasses begin to grow and reseed, a regularly scheduled bird count would help us determine the impact of our new native plants on the park’s bird population.
You can visit our Facebook page by typing Missouri Conservation Corps in the search field of Facebook. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved or have any questions.