A joint private-public venture between conservation groups a township are restoring a rural Barton County road near Cheyenne Bottoms, benefiting both area residents and wildlife.
Repairs to NE 20 Avenue in northern Barton County continued this week after The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and the South Homestead Township came together to contract county crews for the work along the western edge of Cheyenne Bottoms.
A three-quarter mile stretch of the heavily-traveled road between K-4 and NE 80 Road crosses conservancy land. But, it has been impassable for much of the spring and summer, said Robert Penner, Cheyenne Bottoms and avian programs manager for The Nature Conservancy.
The obstructed road and frequent closings were more than a nuisance to hunters and birdwatchers visiting the internationally-recognized wetland complex, he said. The decades-old roadways bisected marshes and fields that naturally flood and hold water for migrating birds.
“I’ve been wanting to see these repairs made for a long time,” Penner said. “We want the water to pass through and flood the wetland basins, not the roads. By holding water, the grasslands transform into pools and mudflats that come alive as important feeding grounds for migrating birds.”
Work started on Nov. 18. Old culverts that had been filled with sediment are being removed and new culverts will be installed, with the first one being put in place Monday. In addition, the road will be raised above the surrounding land.
These changes will reconnect 420 acres, allowing water to flow over the road instead of under it, Penner said.
Funding comes from The Nature Conservancy, which received a $13,300 North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant through Ducks Unlimited, and the South Homestead Township.
County Engineer Barry McManaman said the conservancy contacted the county about doing the work. A complex project, it was above the capabilities of the township crews.
However, South Homestead did offer to pitch in $7,000 towards the effort, McManaman said.
After the improvements are completed, McManaman said the Road and Bridge Department will tally up its costs and submit bills to the funding entities.
Nobody lives in the area, it is flat and the surrounding area is made of marshes, and it has been an unusually damp past couple of seasons. But, there are two businesses in the area as well as oil production, and it’s crucial to hunters and birdwatchers.
Back in February, perennial maintenance problems with this road led to a lengthy discussion at a Barton County Commission meeting. Penner was in attendance, as were township officials.
The DU grant and the possibility of a joint effort came up at that time.
The Nature Conservancy owns 7,300 acres which is administered as the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve adjacent to the 41,000-acre Cheyenne Bottoms wetland area. The 20,000-acre center belongs to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and is administered as the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.
Cheyenne Bottoms in Barton County is the largest inland marsh in the United States.
The bottoms had at least 93,000 visitors last year, nearly half of which were not area residents. The economic impact could be as high as $4 million.