417 Magazine: You worked in health and wellness for 12-plus years prior to joining Ozark Greenways. Why did you make the switch?
Mary Kromrey: I do have a background in health and wellness promotion and management, which had been very focused on programs. Over the years, I was able to realize and see that people need places in which they can be healthy. Programs are great, and they have their place, but if we want folks to move more and to walk more and to bicycle and to get outside and play, then we need safe places for them to do that. I feel that trails and parks are an integral part of the community and a necessity to help keep our residents healthy and happy.
417: So what’s your favorite greenway trail?
M.K.: You know, I’m one of those people that every time I hear a song come on the radio, I’m like, “Oh my gosh that’s my favorite song.” And when I’m on the trail, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is my favorite trail.” But right now I’m pretty jazzed about our Fulbright Spring Greenway that’s up on the north side of town. It used to be called the South Dry Sac Greenway because we are in that stream corridor. There has been this pesky little gap that we’re getting to fill [in 2018]. So that will be just over seven miles of continuous hard-surface greenway that will run from Ritter Springs all the way over to Truman Elementary. That’s probably my favorite one today. Ask me tomorrow, and it’ll be different.
417: What are you looking forward to now that you’re executive director?
M.K.: I do feel that there is a buzz in the air right now. I feel that 2018, 2019 might be the time in which our community as a whole says, “You know what? This trail network is more [than] a nice jogging path through the woods.” And so with that I’m hoping to see some of our key trail gaps filled and us saying, “You know what? Nashville, [Tennessee]; Boise, [Idaho]; Lincoln, [Nebraska]; Omaha, [Nebraska]; northwest Arkansas—all these cities around us are starting to pull ahead because they recognized that a connected trail network is more than a cute jogging path through the woods.” And I want to see us surpass them. You know these cities have 20, 30, 40 miles of greenway trails. We’re already sitting at over 73 miles. Imagine the possibilities if we had some really good connected loops.
417: Are there any concrete plans for that kind of connected loop?
M.K.: There is not a funded plan. We are currently operating off our city’s current comprehensive plan, which is Vision 20/20, and within that there’s a chapter for parks, greenways and open spaces. I believe our city leadership and city council realize that our comprehensive plan needs to be updated. So right now is one of those moments where at the board level, we’re talking strategy. We have to be sure that we’re in those conversations to say, “Hey, let’s take this parks, greenways and open spaces plan to the next level and let’s look at some connected loops. Let’s look at an urban core loop. Let’s see how we can get that Galloway Creek Greenway, which is one of our most popular ones, connected over to Wilson’s Creek Greenway.” If you look at Atlanta and you look at Boise, they’re working on various forms of green belts where then you have that outer loop. Things are getting together, but I think it’s going to be crucial that within the city’s new comprehensive plan that those are called out and that a funding stream that is greater than what Ozark Greenways can raise can be dedicated to go towards that. And I feel that there is good synergy and momentum towards that right now, but technically speaking there’s not an official plan for that, and it’s not funded. I don’t know anybody that would be opposed to that, but there’s so many competing interests and needs. We’ve just got to be sure that we constantly talk about the benefits that trail networks bring for conservation, for healthy communities and that economic vitality piece.
417: Tell us about the conservation work that Ozark Greenways does.
M.K.: We’re working by 2020 to place 45 acres around Wilson’s Creek into conservation easements. Ozark Greenways owns some land, and then there’s some public landowners we’ll be working with and some private landowners—it’s all voluntary—to help preserve Wilson’s Creek, because if we don’t have water, we’re kind of up a creek without a paddle. We’ve also helped do different types of native plant species plantings [and] native tree plantings, which is good for stabilizing creeks, but then it also provides habitat for wildlife.