Kansas Wetlands Education Center groundbreaking set for Oct. 27

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will be in the Cheyenne Bottoms Friday, Oct. 27, for the groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction of the $4.5 million Kansas Wetlands Education Center and to dedicate the Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway.

The public is invited to the ceremony, which begins at 10:30 a.m. at the site of the education center on the east side of Kansas Highway 156 just across from the Kansas Department of Transportation rest area northeast of Great Bend.

"We're fortunate to have a natural treasure like Cheyenne Bottoms in our state for us to enjoy. But Kansans are generous and we want to share this treasure with the world," said Sebelius. "The new education center will be a gateway for visitors to give them a greater appreciation for why these wetlands are so unique and why we need to protect them."

Other speakers will be Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond and Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Hayden is an FHSU alumnus and a former Kansas governor.

"It took a long time and a lot of effort by many people to get this project off the drawing board," said Hammond. "We owe thanks to the state of Kansas and Gov. Sebelius, the Department of Wildlife and Parks and Secretary Hayden, and all of our partners."

FHSU's Sternberg Museum of Natural History will oversee the new education center when it is completed. Grand opening is tentatively set for January 2008.

"Our mission is education, research and service with respect to natural history," said Dr. Jerry Choate, director of the Sternberg Museum. "The education center will fit in perfectly with that mission. It will be concerned with the natural history of the most important wetlands area on the Central Flyway of North America."

He noted that Cheyenne Bottoms is regarded as one of the top wetlands areas in the world and has received at least three designations as an "extremely important" natural area, and yet "it's underused by the public; the public doesn't know much about it and doesn't know how important it is."

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"They don't have the educational background to know what a jewel it is," he said. "The center will be able to educate people about the area, and it can be a big draw for lovers of wildlife and bird watchers. It would be already if they just knew the place existed, and the center will help correct that situation."

Choate said the area is home for at least part of every year to more than 320 species of birds, and an estimated 45 percent of all shore birds in North America visit Cheyenne Bottoms each spring

For more information about this event, the education center or the scenic byway, contact the Great Bend Convention & Visitors Bureau by by calling (620) 792-2750, by e-mail to information@visitgreatbend.com, or by visiting the Web site at www.visitgreatbend.com.

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