Mary Kromrey has been on the job as head of Ozark Greenways for a few months now. She took over the job of executive director from long-time leader, Terry Whaley, who retired. And she’s excited to see the organization continue to expand its approximately 73 ½ miles of trails, 35 of which are the Frisco-Highline Trail from Springfield to Bolivar.
Ozark Greenways recently dedicated a new section of Greenway north of Springfield, which came about due to efforts by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. They applied for a grant and got it, which allowed for a half-mile of trail. That doesn’t seem like much to get excited about, she said, but "it's where it's at and what it's doing. We have the Fulbright Spring Greenway up on the north side of town, and it runs along the South Dry Sac Creek, and what's super cool about this greenway is one day it's going to extend from Ritter Springs Park all the way out to the Watershed Center on Valley Water Mill."
Previously, she said, there was a section at Truman Elementary and Park and some trail at Ritter Springs, and the newest trail puts Ozark Greenways closer to filling the gap.
Once construction of a new section of greenway section starts in a few months, Kromrey said, there will be seven miles of continuous trails in that area, hopefully by the end of the year.
Another project in the works involves the South Creek and Wilson’s Creek Greenways. Currently, to go back and forth between the two trails, a person has to go onto Battlefield Rd. But she hopes that will change soon.
"We just recently had a landowner make a land donation to us, which leaves us with one remaining landowner and about...two, two and a half acres from us having that direct trail to trail connection," Kromrey said.
While Ozark Greenways is known for its trails, it has other projects in the works as well. One is a partnership with James River Basin Partnership (JRBP), with whom, Kromrey said, Ozark Greenways has worked for many years.
"Our current project is focusing on preserving what we call the riparian corridor along Wilson's Creek Greenway because Wilson's Creek, the creek itself, actually flows into the James River, and the James River flows into the lakes down in Branson," said Kromrey.
Between now and 2020, the two organizations are working to place a minimum of 45 acres into a conservation easement. Landowners voluntarily take part, and Ozark Greenways and JRBP work with them to correct any stream bank erosion they might have or to remove non-native plants, according to Kromrey.
She said they’ve received letters of intent from landowners to put 70 acres along the Wilson’s Creek corridor into that easement.
"And some of it is by our Wilson's Creek Greenway, so we're going to be able to do some cool educational opportunities," she said.
Kromrey knows how beneficial natural areas and trails can be to a community and to the well-being of its citizens.
"It's a fast-paced world we live in, and we're on our devices a lot. We're on our screens a lot. We're sitting more than we've ever done before," she said. "And greenways trails really provide that access point. They're easy, they're friendly, folks feel safe on them, so they're just a good way for folks to get out, have some fresh air."
And she said trails build community "whether you're a walker or a runner or you're out there for the birds or you're out there just for the social part of it, it's pretty cool just to see all different folks come together around these greenways trails for every reason you can imagine," she said.
Kromrey is excited about the future of Ozark Greenways. A lot of things are beginning to converge, she said, to create an even better trail system in southwest Missouri. She sees the chambers of commerce, cities, counties, parks department and private residents starting to work together because they realize that greenways are important resources for a community.