Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2015

Baker Edition: University expands educational opportunities with Wetlands Discovery Center

August 20, 2015

Long known for providing learning opportunities outside the classroom, Baker University will expand its educational offerings for its students and the public this fall when the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center opens on the southern edge of Lawrence.

The 11,000-square-foot center is housed on the Baker Wetlands, which encompasses 927 acres. It will feature an observatory tower, display area, exhibit space, gift shop, small classroom, research lab and south-facing windows overlooking the scenic wetlands.

“We will continue to maintain the area as a diverse natural habitat with an emphasis on wet meadows,” said Roger Boyd, director of natural areas and emeritus professor of biology at Baker. “The educational center will be unique to Baker.”

A ribbon cutting to dedicate the center is planned for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30. Public open houses are set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, and 1-4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4.

"The Discovery Center combined with the wetlands will provide a unique educational experience that no other university in the region can match,” Baker President Lynne Murray says. “Our students will have continuous opportunities to observe and gather data for research projects.”

For nearly 50 years, thousands of students from Baker and other area universities and public school classes have toured the wetlands and conducted research. The areas of research include population ecology of certain reptiles and birds, migration patterns of birds and salamanders, abundance and distribution of hydric plants, air quality, water quality, properties of Wabash soils, the change in plant populations associated with rehydration of the area, small mammal populations, water table fluctuations, presence of chemically resistant bacteria and others.

Boyd and his son, Jon, director of the wetlands, have overseen the development of the center for the last year. An asphalt parking lot and sidewalks will enhance the visitors’ experience, Roger Boyd said.

“My wife and I visited more than a dozen different visitor centers,” Roger Boyd said. “This is a lot similar to the one at Cheyenne Bottoms (in central Kansas).”

Baker students will regularly visit the site to conduct research. Scott Kimball, assistant professor of biology at Baker, said the center would be integrated into the classes he teaches that require frequent field trips to the wetlands.

“Instead of coming all the way back to Baldwin to process field samples, they can process them right at the Discovery Center,” Kimball said. “The facility provides a better overall environment to learn outside the classroom and heightens the students’ interests in science.”

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