Friends of the River
Friends of the River is an organization dedicated to returning the Smoky Hill River to being a part of Salina’s identity. It started in 2009 with six people. The story goes, one of the founders of the organization was complaining about the conditions of the river one night at dinner when his wife said to him, “stop talking about it and do something”. Jane Anderson executive director for Friends of the River joined the team as the first hired staff member because she believed this project was worth the chance.
Last year a campaign to raise the sales tax from 8.40% to 8.75% was on the Salina ballot. “Say yes to a better Salina” won and as a result, the sales tax increase will raise $1.35 million a year for the next 20 years to be put towards the revival of the river.
The Smoky Hill River plays a vital role in the lives of all who live in Salina. Around 60% of all water used in the city comes from the river. The river provided the means for Salina to form when founded in 1858. The water and strong trees were a key part of the success of Salina. However, it was the use of the water’s current to run grain mills that gave Salina such a great start. As the mills grew, so did Salina. At one point Salina was the third largest flour-producing city in the world. The river served the city in multiple ways. Whether that be an aesthetic appeal, economically, or recreationally, the Smoky Hill River was a building block for the identity of Salina.
This all went downhill when a flood hit the city in 1951 causing a tragic amount of loss and destruction. The river that helped build the city also destroyed it. After the flood, precautions were made to ensure floods like that would not hit Salina again. Construction started in 1957 to create a diversion channel and a levee system as part of a flood protection plan for the city of Salina. Even though this was seen as a way to protect Salina, community members were still sad to see the river go.
Since the original alterations, the river has since dried up and looks nothing like it used to. Nowadays the river can be seen from the various bridges around town. With the current levels of pollution, it almost seems like there is more trash than water in the river. With the increase in sales tax is work that needs to happen in order to refurbish the river. A grant titled “Chronicling the Change” is raising money for people to showcase the river. This can be through various art forms and educational activities being done to rebuild the river.
The Smoky Hill River is on its way to being what it once was, a token of Salina. With the work being done by Friends of the River, the taxpayers of Salina, and anyone who is willing to donate to help revive the Smoky Hill River.