The Kansas Wetlands Education Center has something to show you. The eagerly anticipated interpretive center at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area will officially open for visitors at its grand opening at 3 p.m. Friday, April 24.
The public is welcome to attend the grand opening and tour the facility following the one-hour dedication program. Because of parking limitations at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, Barton County Community College will provide a convenient shuttle bus service for the grand opening. Signs on the campus will direct visitors to the North Kirkman Parking Lot, where there is abundant parking space. Buses will leave at 2:15 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. for the short drive to the 3 p.m. event. An additional trip will be added if needed. Buses will also provide return trips to the campus.
The new facility’s opening culminates several years of collaboration among a variety of partners. It also marks an important milestone in the rich history of Cheyenne Bottoms, providing the means to illuminate that history and enlighten visitors about the unique value of Cheyenne Bottoms, nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and all Kansas wetlands.
Located eight miles northeast of Great Bend, on the southeast portion of Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center features the expansive Koch Wetlands Exhibit, underwritten by a $500,000 grant from the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation, as well as a 75-seat auditorium, a classroom, offices and a gift shop. Affiliated with Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center will be operated by FHSU. In cooperation with a Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks educator stationed there, FHSU staff will conduct on-site and outreach educational programs.
Collaboration, planning and development on the Kansas Wetlands Education Center began in 2003, after KDWP received a $2 million grant for facility construction from the Kansas Department of Transportation, through funds from the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Under the direction of Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, and Mike Hayden, KDWP secretary, a variety of partners joined forces to begin planning the facility. Representatives from local governments, including Barton County, Barton County Community College, Great Bend, Hoisington, Claflin and Ellinwood participated in early planning and discussion. Kansas Department of Commerce, The Nature Conservancy and the Kansas Wildscape Foundation lent
support as well. Representatives from KDWP, FHSU, The Nature Conservancy, Great Bend and Barton County appointed representatives to serve on planning teams to develop building and exhibit design recommendations. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius joined a variety of local and state citizens Oct. 27, 2006, for a groundbreaking ceremony.
Designed by Manhattan architects Bowman Bowman and Novick, the 11,246-square-foot, crescent-shaped Kansas Wetlands Education Center features an expansive wall of glass looking out on the world-famous marsh. Exhibit design and construction was by Chase Studio of Missouri, which has developed nature center exhibits and displays around the world.
The Koch Wetlands Exhibit includes a large wall panel with a map of Cheyenne Bottoms and its features, up-to-date information on seasonal wildlife activity on the marsh, and management activities under way. Other design elements include a topographic depiction of the marsh and its natural communities; welded steel, life-sized sculptures of birds that frequent the area; and a historical interpretation display that illustrates tools, weapons, gear and other accessories used by human visitors to Cheyenne Bottoms throughout history. In addition, three-dimensional, interactive exhibits will illustrate the rich variety of plants and animals common in marshes, along with displays depicting the various types of wetlands found in Kansas, from the playas common in western Kansas to the flooded timber marshes of eastern Kansas.