By Kathy Feist
Kansas City Parks and Recreation has agreed to protect the historic millstone at Watt’s Mill after a cook-out fire caused severe damage.
The department will install steel posts and a cable fence around the millstone. Signs will also be installed informing the public that fires are not allowed in the park.
The Parks Department was contacted after Watt’s Mill business owner Matt Alexiou discovered the damage during a routine stroll along the Indian Creek Trail. The 190-year-old stone was charred black from a fire so strong that interior parts of the stone crumbled.
Standing at barely three feet tall with a portion of the wheel’s interior carved out, the millstone can easily be mistaken for a fire pit. Only a historic marker 10 yards away mentions the stone’s significance in a detailed history of Watt’s Mill.
But Alexiou says the problem is bigger than a misunderstood concept.
“It’s a homeless issue,” he says. “They catch fish out of the creek and then have to cook it.”
Alexiou and his wife Ann own Southside Bar and Grill. They, along with many business owners at Watt’s Mill shopping strips, complain of trash and misbehavior from homeless individuals who collect along the Indian Creek Trail near 103rd and State Line Rd.
Three years ago Jasper Mirable, owner of Jasper’s Restaurant, threatened to take his reputable business elsewhere after newly installed concrete picnic tables along the trail were defaced while large groups of homeless people partied through the night and trash containers overflowed. The City took notice. According to Alexiou, the picnic tables have since remained clear of graffiti, trash containers are emptied regularly, and the large, late night parties have ended.
Nevertheless, business owners in the area are running out of patience as they continue to pick up trash along the trail and fend off aggressive homeless individuals. “I’m beginning to think we don’t have a homeless issue,” says Alexiou. “We have a ‘City doesn’t care’ issue.”
But strides are being made. According to 6th District City Councilman Kevin McManus, the City is working with the Parks Department to increase the number of park rangers who can enforce access to other alternatives for homeless individuals (currently there are two park rangers for the city’s 240 parks, according to Parks Project Manager Chad Hallingsworth).
McManus also points out that the city manager’s office has created a new procedure for the removal of tents on property. Earlier this year the city hired its first homeless prevention coordinator, Josh Henges.
All cities in the United States must navigate the First Amendment right when dealing with panhandling. “The city does have an ordinance that bans aggressive panhandling and other existing public safety laws, including disorderly conduct, which applies,” stated McManus in a recent email to The Telegraph.
In the meantime, the old millstone along the Indian Creek River is all that remains of the area once known as Dallas, Missouri. In an effort to preserve ties to the past and keep the parkway pristine and safe, Alexiou issues a cry for help: “Let’s save Dallas, Missouri!”
A petition called Save Watts Mill can be found on Change.org.