The Smoky Hill River has long provided sustenance for animals and people. The River offered a natural crossroads as well as water and timber. In 1858, Salina's town founders saw the great advantages furnished by the River.

Power from the flowing river soon ran mills that sawed trees into wood and ground grain into flour. Salina's milling industry was born and steadily grew to the position of third-largest flour-producing city in the world.

The River also became the place to celebrating life. Picnics, horse racing, boat trips and swimming enhanced the quality of life and helped build the young community.

Ironically, the same river that spurred development in Salina also brought devastation. After the river left its banks in the great flood of 1951, it was rerouted, and flow to the channel that runs through the town was cut off. What once was picturesque enough to have the movie "Picnic" filmed on its banks is now a silt-filled ditch.

Like the city founders before them, the Friends of the River and the City of Salina see the Smoky Hill River as a great asset. With its restoration, the River can once again play a vital part in Salina's economic and recreational development.


1858 – Salina was founded as the westernmost point of the ancient Indian trail along the Smoky Hill River. It was established as a trading post for prospectors bound for Colorado, westbound immigrants, and Native American tribes.

1957-1961 – Construction of the diversion channel and levee system by the Corps of Engineers as part of the city’s flood protection plan. When this happened, the original river channel dried up and Salina’s identity with its historic river faded. This loss of identity took with it a loss of memories, stories, experiences, natural habitat and educational opportunities.

1978 – City of Salina commissioned Wilson & Company to conduct a study of the old river channel.

1986 – Comprehensive goal-setting initiative by City of Salina, Chamber of Commerce and several thousand citizens found the number 1 goal to be beautification of the river channel running through downtown.

Late 80s-early 90s – Smoky Hill River Development Committee convened multiple times under city manager Dennis Kissinger to explore improvements to the old river channel.

2006 – Salina Shared Vision and Strategic Plan adopted by city commission included 6 goals and actions related to the Smoky Hill River.

2007 – First organizational meeting of the Friends of the River Foundation (incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit organization in 2009).

2008 – City commission authorized the Friends of the River to conduct public outreach.

2009 – Friends of the River conducted public forums and collected input from 3,500 participants.

December 2009 – City of Salina Commission authorized the preparation of a Master Plan to guide restoration and renewal of the Old Channel of the Smoky Hill River through Salina. The intent of the Smoky Hill River Master Plan was to identify appropriate planning, design and preliminary engineering responses to the specific opportunities associated with the restoration and redevelopment of the Old River Channel area of the Smoky Hill River. (Master Plan Phase 2)

2010 – City of Salina approved the Smoky Hill River Master Plan and adopted it as a component of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

2010 – .25% sales tax for $27 million project defeated (65.2% to 34.8% or 9,217 votes to 4,929)
  • This dollar figure was expected to cover
    • Water flow, including culvert repairs, bridge replacements, sediment removal, etc.
    • Multi-use trails
    • Hardscape downtown river walk
  • Misperception that the election was for a $72 million, 50-year plan as outlined in the long-term master plan, which included substantial private development forecasts
  • Would have pushed the 8.2% Salina sales tax to 8.45%
  • Economic issues at the time: mid-recession combined with a 1% state sales tax increase
  • Defeated in part by “Not Now” campaign (NOT a “no” to the project itself or the funding mechanism)

2013 – Salina Downtown, Inc., on behalf of the Friends of the River Foundation and in partnership with multiple private and public agencies, engaged ConsultEcon, Inc. to conduct an economic impact analysis of the Smoky Hill River Renewal Master Plan.

2015 – The organization hired Jane Anderson as executive director (its first paid staff position) to help move the project forward.
2016 – The Friends of the River oversaw the Yes for a Better Salina Campaign for the passing of a increase of Salina's sales tax. It passed in May 2016. It raises Salina' sales tax from 8.40% to 8.75% for the next 20 years. $1.35 million a year for 20 years will be used for the renewal of the Smoky Hill River. The sales tax should raise an estimated $27,000,000.
2017-2018 – City of Salina Utilities Director Martha Tasker is head of the renewal with HDR hired to oversee the restoration of the Smoky Hill River with Eric Dove as project manager. Design charrettes, surveying and soil sampling are completed. Engineering has begun for the River. The Corps of Engineers signed an agreement with the City of Salina in November of 2017 to begin a study of the Smoky Hill River to see if it qualifies for a 1135 project. or the restoration of an ecologically damaged area. This could add an additional $10,000,000 to the project.