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Imagine Ottawa County Remade

If you have ever been an educator, you know there is a joy seeing a student discover a thing, own it, claim it and then more deeply know it.

I saw some of that happen this week as 12 graduate students began to grasp this place. They had been studying maps, grafts and images for the last 5 weeks. They learned our average rain fall, soil types, aquifers and all the ways flood waters lay down around parts of this county and the lives the high water affects.

It is one thing to see the list of the tribes in Ottawa County but to see their lands from the state line down to the southern edge and the waters that lap and at times inundate us. These students came to know our ancestors were forced to leave homelands leaving the graves of their ancestors only to come here to mere slivers of property to begin again.

Who are these students and why are they here? Riley and Scarlet, Geli and Yubo, Jessica, Elliott, Oliver and Justin came with Chee-Ling, Rachel, Ying and Kun. While they have been here they have become a team, a tight bonded bunch of landscape architects setting about creating the designs for the future of this county. But why have they come? They are here because of a quirky selection process at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, that I would simply describe as random. Niall Kirkwood's vision last year Tar Creek Remade grew into this more expansive course: Ottawa County Remade, the audacious attempt for these 12 students to take on the future of the whole county!

In order to do this, it became my task to give them what they would need, and that with your help has been provided by the generosity of so many of you who have taken time to visit with them. They have met, sat down with, walked sidewalks, entered gardens, and farms, witnessed a water well testing, attended a city council meeting, entered a casino, eaten a KuKu burger, seen a chat pile and then another one. They have crossed all the bridges over Tar Creek and seen the mine water discharge come straight out of the ground with great, unending force. They have stood on one of the largest man-made structures in the county made totally out of discarded soil and mine waste.

They saw our landscape, from the prairies to the edges of the Ozarks and followed the Neosho to the Spring where they together form our Grand River. They walked with fishermen casting for shad at the very place that water took a fellow fisherman for keeps just a few days ago. These students learned from both the Wyandot and Quapaw Environmental staff the important roles they have in protecting our waters and our environment and with a bit more time they would have made the rounds to know even more of us.

They came to know of groundwater finding the surface in unnamed springs and the challenge it is to change and embrace the preciousness that water brings while standing back to see the lay of the stream beneath the surface. It is easy to focus on a place but after only these few days I was made to begin to understand the wider expanded view of the work landscape architects take on.

Niall Kirkwood's vision will come to life in 8 more weeks as these 12 students take back to Cambridge what they have seen, experienced and learned about this place and hone in their projects to turn their vision into projected projects. This is an educational experience, taking what they have learned in classrooms throughout their course of study, and bringing this into our real life settings where they can try on this creative responsibility, that will allow them to take their skills and logical know-how into their view of the way our land will lay and our waters flow.

They have gained confidence each day, as they also begin to know their days as students end soon and they will be taking on clients: cities and towns, tribal nations who need their skills to help them master and live more gently with the places they come to reside.

Their instructor has guided and stood as the role model throughout the course and demonstrated the power of the pen to paper they as landscape architects have and so easily can share with communities where they may spend their lives, seeing the homelands broadly as the canvas of their work. There are people who make a difference and the very best ones are those like Niall Kirkwood, who teach by example and inspire students to see the future.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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