It’s hard to believe, but the Kansas Wetlands Education Center turns 10 years old this spring, KWEC Executive Director Curtis Wolf told the Barton County Commission Monday Morning. And, with the county being on the original supporters of the project, he thanked commissioners for their continued backing.
“The county is one of the many partners who allowed the center to become a reality,” he said. That is why he attended the meeting and offered highlights of the 2018 annual report for the facility, located south of K-156 just across the highway from Cheyenne Bottoms, and owned and managed by Fort Hays State University.
“The county is one of many partners who has made this facility possible,” he said.
“The center is one of the many great resources we have for quality of life that benefits all of Barton County,” Wolf said. “We’re just trying to provide excellent programs, events and educational opportunities for all of our locals, but we also offer a real destination that draws a lot of out-of-town visitors to the area.”
The center recorded 20,295 total contacts in 2018, he said.
But, “during 2018, the KWEC saw its most significant enhancement project to its exhibit hall since opening in 2009 with the installation of 12 new exhibit features, including 14 interactive pieces,” Wolf said. These replace some of the original displays dating back a decade and funding came from the Dorothy Morrison Foundation.
“Overall, we are very pleased with how the project has gone,” he said. He called them a “game changer” to attract visitors.
KWEC staff continued to offer a diverse set of programs through both on-site and outreach platforms for over 600 programs. School programs dominated the program offerings with over 400 school programs being offered in Barton County schools, and Wolf said.
“Our educators are incredible,” Wolf said. They have a great relationship with area schools recreation commissions and libraries, and professional and social organizations. “We have a lot of our tried-and-true events coming back this year,” he said. These include the annual Butterfly Festival in September, Nature Discovery Summer Kids Camps, the Perseid Meteor Shower Watch Party in August,
They are also adding some new events. Among these are the Biosphere Watch Party this Saturday (an Earth Day event), and the Wings and Wetlands Birding Festival.
Scheduled for May 3 and 4, this is a biennial event which brings in over 100 bird watchers and birding enthusiasts from across the country. So far, 92 have registered from Kansas and 14 other states, and most from at least 90 miles away.
He also spotlighted the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway Committee, in particular the county’s part and that of county Cartographer Bj Wooding. Newly energized, Wolf said the group is setting goals to improve marketing the 15-year-old scenic route between Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
“It’s done a good job in identifying some projects,” he said. They are looking at some “very attainable goals” such as replacing the aging signage along the route.
“We appreciate the strong relationship with the county,” he said. This allows the residents to “take advantage of the tremendous natural resources we have in Barton County.”
“My grandchildren love going out there,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. They were impressed with new exhibits.