During this time of social distancing for visitors and less opportunity for school-age students to travel, Fort Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center has created a virtual tour.
The tour, where one can experience Cheyenne Bottoms from the comfort of your home or classroom, is available on the recently revamped KWEC website at wetlandscenter.fhsu.edu. It is comprised of 360 images, drone footage, educational videos, interviews with key Cheyenne Bottoms partners and interactive games. The use of drones in the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and the Nature Conservancy Preserve require special permission, and the drone footage was provided by Joseph Kern, executive director of Ad Astra Educational Research and Out-reach LTD.
While it can’t replace an in-person visit to Cheyenne Bottoms, the drone footage and images place you into the wetland. Visitors will experience birds, gain an understanding of the magnitude of the 41,000-acre freshwater marsh and learn why it is important to protect this natural resource. The Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism manages 19,857 of those acres and the Nature Conservancy manages almost 8,000 acres. Both areas are represented and showcased in the virtual tour.
The website will feature recent bird sightings, upcoming events, and online programs and videos that have been developed by KWEC educators during this pandemic. A bingo board is also available on the website to help guide visitors to a variety of activities.
The KWEC is part of a nationwide research collaborative, researching the effectiveness of virtual environmental education programs and is looking for teachers grade 6-12 that would have their students complete the virtual tour and take a survey. The KWEC also has a program that can be scheduled through Zoom, teaching about wetland types and properties.
Teachers interested in having students provide data for the Collaborative Evidence-Based Learning Network for Improving Environmental Education Distance Learning through Virginia Tech and Clemson University should contact Mandy Kern at email@example.com or 877-243-9268 by Dec. 11.
The KWEC is located 10 miles northeast of Great Bend at 592 NE K-156.