student profile: Brett Shoffner-MPA student balances 15 credit hours with internship and volunteer work

Nathan Zoschke

Brett Shoffner lost his car to a blown engine in 2004, only to find a passion for mountain biking that has transformed his life.

“I took the West Lawrence [Kan.] exit on my way to school in Iowa, and my engine blew up,” he said.

Shoffner was unable to pay the tow service or mechanic, which kept his car and auctioned it off, so he started riding his bike out of necessity.

Shoffner is now a Masters of Public Administration student at UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management, and his enthusiasm for biking has inspired a passion for building urban trails.

Shoffner discovered that he enjoyed working outdoors, and found it rewarding to see people biking, hiking and running on the trails he helped construct along the riverfront in Lawrence, Kan., and at nearby Clinton Lake.

“I like getting dirty and the feeling of swinging my pickaxe in the air,” he said.

Since Shoffner’s arrival to Kansas City in 2008, he has helped construct more than 10 miles of urban trails in two Kansas City parks that have been overlooked in recent years.

He said his volunteer work at Swope Park and Roanoke Park is motivated by a desire to increase community involvement.

“If the urban core does not establish a sense of sustainability and ownership of the future, these areas are going to die off,” he said.

His long-term vision is to build one of the largest urban trail systems in the world—65 miles of contiguous trail linking Kessler Park in the Historic Northeast to the Swope Park and the Blue River Parkway trails in South Kansas City.

His twofold sustainability effort focuses on both neighborhood restoration and well-managed ecological habitat.

Shoffner said he usually works in small groups of about five volunteers, although he has cleared a significant part of the Roanoke Park trail by himself.

Invasive species of honeysuckle and other overgrown plants at both parks have been removed, and the slope of the trails has been modified to optimize accessibility and drainage.

He pointed to a slide from a presentation he made last weekend at the World Trails Summit in Santa Fe, N.M.

Two pictures contrast the pristine condition of Roanoke Park in the early 1900s with the litter and overgrown vegetation that he discovered last fall when he began work on the trail.

“We want to get the park system back to what it was when it first started,” Shoffner said.

In addition to his 15 MPA credits at UMKC, Shoffner also estimated that he works 20-30 hours a week as a planning intern at the Mid-America Regional Council.

Shoffner said he often foregoes sleep, but summed up the purpose of his work with a quote from Marie Freedman:

“If you’re too busy to give your neighbor a helping hand, then you’re just too darned busy.”

Shoffner is looking for volunteers to help build trail at Roanoke Park on Nov. 10 from 8 a.m.-noon. Volunteers will meet at the Westport-Roanoke Community Center, 3700 Roanoke Road.

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