Baker Wetlands Discover Center open house this weekend
There’s a sly trick in the design of the sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the new Baker University Wetlands Discovery Center.
As visitors leave the parking lot, they encounter a fork in the sidewalk. One branch leads straight to an observation deck on the edge of the wetlands to the south, while the other walkway wraps around the eastern edge of the new $1.5 million, 11,000-square-foot Discovery Center
“The National Park Service says 80 percent of those visiting national parks never go beyond the visitor centers,” said Roger Boyd, director of natural areas for Baker. “That’s one of the reasons we built the sidewalk, so you have to walk around the building to see the door. We want people to go to the wetlands.”
There’s no question, however, the Discovery Center, 1365 North 1250 Road, will be the focal point this weekend as it opens to the public with an open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Those who head directly inside still will have a view of the wetlands through floor-to-ceiling windows lining its southern exposure.
“We worked hard on that,” Boyd said of the view.
Behind those glass windows, the Discovery Center’s central wing houses a 4,000-square-foot main display room, restrooms, gift shop, small classroom, research lab and offices. A large classroom, which can be divided by curtains, will take up the entirety of the wing that angles to the northeast. A garage/workshop occupies the wing angling to the northwest.
The new facility will interest most open house visitors, but there’s a lot going on out in the wetland now and in the coming weeks of fall of interest for nature lovers, Boyd said. It’s monarch butterfly time, and naturalists are catching and tagging monarchs as they head south on their annual migration. As always, there are a lot of birds. Canada geese and red-wing blackbirds could be seen from the south windows, and would be joined soon by migrating geese, ducks, shore birds, egrets and gulls, Boyd said.
In another sense, it’s a poor time to explore the wetlands because ongoing construction on the South Lawrence Trafficway has made 90 percent of its trails inaccessible or disturbed wetland habitat, said Jon Boyd, Roger Boyd’s son and wetlands manager.
Nonetheless, the Boyds praised the Kansas Department of Transportation and the project’s contractors. The center was built as part of the highway department’s mitigation agreement for 58 acres of wetland needed to extend the SLT. The state also agreed to restore another 410 acres of wetlands, which increased the size of the Baker Wetlands to 927 acres.
KDOT and its contractors went above and beyond what was required in the agreements, the Boyds said.
“They were great to work with,” Jon Boyd said. “By and large, the excavation people created more habitat They made a lot of mitigation sites better than we ever thought because they needed more fill dirt.”
Although the Boyds want visitors to directly experience the wetland, they understand the importance of the Discovery Center in telling the unique environment’s story. Visitors will find that story told in the center’s main hall through printed panels placed on display cases Jon Boyd built. One of the panels asks, “What Have Wetlands Done for You Lately?” The other panel answers that by explaining how wetlands filter pollution from entering streams and rivers, provide habitat for wildlife, increase biological diversity and providing areas for recreation and research.
Roger Boyd wrote the copy for the posters, and Baker multimedia designer John Masson provided the graphics and design for the posters.
The open house is meant to showcase the Discovery Center, and there will be no associated special events, Roger Boyd said. The first 400 visitors will receive a free map of the wetlands and the first 380 or so a free key chain, he said.
“We would be overjoyed with 400 people,” Roger Boyd said. “It’ll be interesting. We only have parking for 44 vehicles. There will probably be parking up and down the road.”
After the weekend open house, the Discovery Center will start regular hours of 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays. Weekend hours may be added later when the volunteer base for the center grows, Roger Boyd said, adding he will resort to another trick during the open house to recruit volunteers.
“There will be a guest book and volunteer book at the open house,” he said. “We’re not going to label which one is which.”