One minute, I’m walking in George Owens Nature Park, talking with city of Independence park naturalist Matt Garrett about efforts to restore native plants inside the grounds. As our conversation drew to a close, a heavier rain began to fall, the clouds shifted overhead, and one of Garrett’s co-workers told us that funnel clouds were spotted across the metropolitan region.

It’s amazing how quickly an interview can change in 30 minutes.  

One minute, I’m walking in George Owens Nature Park, talking with city of Independence park naturalist Matt Garrett about efforts to restore native plants inside the grounds. As our conversation drew to a close, a heavier rain began to fall, the clouds shifted overhead, and one of Garrett’s co-workers told us that funnel clouds were spotted across the metropolitan region.

I guess it was only fitting that I was outside, learning more about Mother Nature’s beauty as her darker side threatened us.  

Changes several years in the making – and some that will require several generations to take shape – are evident across George Owens. A large median inside the parking lot was once filled with turf grass, Garrett said, but now it is filled with the sunny yellow blooms of tickseed coreopsis. Now the median is off of the city’s mowing rotation, which saves the Parks and Recreation Department hundreds of hours in labor, Garrett said.   

Native plant restoration is a process of patience. The growth won’t always look attractive in the short-term, Garrett said, but the wait will prove worthy once flowers begin blooming.

“Every month when somebody comes here, they’re going to get something different,” he said of the blooming stages from April through November.    

Eventually, any green space at George Owens Nature Park will be returned to native plants, Garrett said. Restoration efforts also are taking place at Independence Athletic Complex and near the spraygrounds at McCoy Park.

Along the start of George Owens’ walking trail, the long process of reopening the forested area has begun with the planting of sunflowers and other native wildflowers. Again, patience is key.  

“I’m starting it, but I won’t be the naturalist that finishes this project,” Garrett said. “It’s going to take 50, 60, 70 years to get to where we’re going.”

“Mr. Matt,” as he is known by the children, works closely with the Pioneer Ridge Middle School Outdoor Club, which planted the seedlings in the George Owens’ median. In partnership with the Kansas City Public Library’s Sugar Creek Branch, he also has a storytime at 10 and 11 a.m. Thursdays in June and July at the park, starting next week.  

He considers himself an interpreter who connects people of all ages with nature. Garrett wants children to develop an appreciation for the environment like he did as he grew up near Watkins Mill State Park by Excelsior Springs, Mo.

Now in his fifth year as the city’s only park naturalist, Garrett said he also recognizes that he is a male role model for young children who visit the park with their families.

“Most kids don’t get to leave their cul-de-sac anymore,” Garrett said. “Coming to George Owens, kids can explore and have unstructured free time. They can play in the woods and not have to follow orders – they can just play.”  



Bruno Mars coming to Events Center

Ladies and gentlemen, a pop music singer I believe you’re going to be hearing for years to come is coming to our backyard – the Independence Events Center – Saturday evening: Bruno Mars.

I was at the dentist’s office earlier this week, flipping through Time Magazine’s 2011 edition of the most influential people in the world, and there was Bruno Mars, among the list of artists, activists, reformers, researchers and political leaders. He was nominated for seven Grammys this year and won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

He isn’t just another pop star with a flashy name and even flashier makeup and costume choices. Born Peter Gene Hernandez, Bruno Mars started performing in 1990 – before he had yet to reach kindergarten. He sings and plays drums, guitar, bass and the keyboard – and he produces albums.

A devoted music lover, I jump at any chance to interview musicians who are performing at the Events Center, regardless of their genre or age. Though I was unable interview Mars because of his touring schedule, I’ve got my eye on his career – only two months separate us in age – and I look forward to seeing what he’ll do in years to come.

Bruno Mars and his Hooligans will perform “a show of stars” alongside Grammy-nominated artist and Kansas City, Kan.-native Janelle Monae and her Androids. The show starts at 8 Saturday night and also will feature Mayer Hawthorne and the County. Visit www.independenceeventscenter.com for more information.

There will never be another Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, but Bruno Mars sure comes darned close.