Name of organisation
Kansas Wetlands Education Center
State funds and Fort Hays State University – Werth College of Science, Technology and Mathematics
Number of staff
6 Full Time, 5 part time grad students
Number of visitors per year
Approximately 27,000 total contacts annually.
Provide 700 environmental education programs each year.
Overall aims of the centre
Educating the public about wetland communities, their importance, and need for conservation and restoration with an emphasis on Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira NWR.
Description of the centre
The Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) is home to the 2,000 square foot Koch Wetlands Exhibit gallery with newly renovated interactive exhibits, a classroom with live animal exhibits, an auditorium, and the Wetlands Gift Store. Guided van tours, a handicapped-accessible ½-mile nature trail, a pollinator garden, a vast expanse of windows overlooking a marsh area behind KWEC, and many public programs provide a glimpse of the Kansas wetlands and what can be found within. KWEC is also houses a research laboratory and workspace for graduate students from Fort Hays State University and other ancillary staff.
KWEC is located at Cheyenne Bottoms, a freshwater marsh that is the largest interior wetland in the United States with over 41,000 acres. Cheyenne Bottoms contains farm land, creek beds, shelter belts, grasslands, mud flats, and marsh habitats. 356 of the 475 species of birds found in the state of Kansas have been documented at Cheyenne Bottoms. Cheyenne Bottoms is home to 44 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, 6 species of turtle, and 9 species of amphibians. Located along the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway, KWEC connects provides a link between the Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, an inland salt marsh, by educating the public about wetland communities, their importance, and the need for conservation and restoration. Cheyenne Bottoms is managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks through the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and by the Nature Conservancy through the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve.
Cheyenne Bottoms has been named as a:
- Ramsar Wetland of International Importance
- WHSRN site of hemispheric importance to shorebirds
- Globally Important Bird Area
Cheyenne Bottoms is a critical stopover for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. It is:
- Located on North American Central Flyway
- Critical habitat for endangered Whooping Cranes
Main CEPA work area
Website includes online resources created, such as wildlife skits appropriate for young ages, and a “Watcha Doing Rob?” video series that highlights the management efforts of our wetlands. A virtual tour will “fly” visitors to several areas of the marsh through drone footage, 360-degree images, stakeholder interviews, and interactive games. Electronic newsletters are sent out monthly, and we highlight our events and items of interest on social media. Visitors to the center can watch a 16-minute video about Cheyenne Bottoms and are led through interpretive exhibits learning more about wetlands.
Approximately 700 environmental education programs are presenting annually. Programs range from monthly “turtle tot” programs for ages 3-5, monthly WILD programs geared at getting kids off electronics and outside, to adult lecture style guest speakers. Educators provide field trip opportunities, as well as travel to classrooms and organizations within 70-miles of the center. All programming as well as admission the center is offered free of charge. A favorite program for all ages is an opportunity to get into the wetland with provided waders and collecting supplies. Participants collect aquatic invertebrates, learn to identify them, and determine water quality based on pollution sensitivity ratings of the inverts. Each year, we host all 2nd grade students in Barton County for a Wetlands Day, roughly 375 students.
Several citizen science projects are promoted throughout the year. Our largest event is our Butterfly Festival, attracting hundreds of visitors. We tag Monarch Butterflies for Monarch Watch. We also hold several bird counts, like Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, International Shorebird Surveys, and Breeding Bird Surveys. We area an official Frog Watch USA site, and have two Chronolog stations collecting data.
In 2021, KWEC Program Specialist Mandy Kern authored a children’s book, Ava: A Year of Adventure in the Life of an American Avocet. It’s main character, Ava, is an American Avocet, a breed of shorebird who leaves her home at the Laguna Madre and travels 1,000 miles to Cheyenne Bottoms. As Ava meets her mate and starts a family, readers are introduced to one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. Thanks to the Dorothy M. Morrison Foundation, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center created this 32-page, fully illustrated children’s book. The funding provided a copy to every K-6 classroom in Barton County, Kansas as well as every school and community/public library within 70 miles of the center. The book has been selected as a recommended title by the Kansas National Education Association’s Reading Circle Commission and was recognized as a 2022 Kansas Notable Book. Additional supplemental activities for classrooms were developed and are available online at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center website.
Top three successes
- Opportunities for visitors to interact with exhibits and engage in learning in the Exhibit Hall and Nature Trail.
- Hands-on learning for classrooms and field trip programs.
- Collaborations with other organizations to support wetlands education.
Top three challenges
- Attracting drop-in visitors from a wider range of locations
- Continuing to update displays and exhibits to appeal to repeat visitors
- Drought – the wetland goes through periodic dry periods, decreasing opportunities for education through field trips and tours.
Creating signage; site information; Producing written materials; Using audio-visual tools; Developing nature trails
Managing / creating habitat; Running a visitor centre
Engaging young people; Engaging the local community; Working with volunteers
Education and communication
Early years education; Delivering adult education; Working with primary schools; Working with secondary schools.
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