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Whats up at the bottoms?
KWEC sees increased traffic, several improvements
wetlands center pic web
The number of people utilizing services from the Kansas Wetlands Education Center near Cheyenne Bottoms has increased, the Barton County Commission learned Monday morning. - photo by Tribune file photo

Kansas Wetlands Education Center Director Curtis Wolf told the Barton County Commission Monday morning that there is a lot on the agenda for this year at the facility.

Although more details will be announced later, he said a key project will be a major overhaul of the exhibit space.

The center opened nine years ago and Wolf said it was time to freshen things up a bit. “We’re excited about this.”

Some exhibits will be replace and some new ones will be added, he said. The work will likely be completed by August.

The center is also looking for a new educator to replace Jean Aycock who is leaving for another job.

As for activities, below is a rundown of what is planned (Dates are tentative and subject to change. TBD means to be determined):

• Feb. 3, 10, 17 - Winter family /kids program series

• Feb. 2 - World Wetlands Day

• Feb. 11 - Bat Day at KWEC - Bats of Kansas presentation by Curtis Schmidt - Sternberg Museum of Natural History

• March-August - FrogWatch monitoring

• March TBD - Turtle Tots Pre-school program series

• March 4 - KWEC volunteer appreciation event

• March 17 - 25 - Special KWEC Spring Break come-and-go programs/activities

• March-April - Prairie chicken lek tours (various dates TBD)

• April 7 - Wild Goose Chase 5k/3k Fun Run

• April 29 - Great Migration Rally event

• May TBD - Spring star gazing workshop with FHSU Astronomy Club

• May 1 - 3 - Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Shorebird conservation workshop

• May 19 - Central Kansas Photography Club nature photography workshop with Jason P. Odell

• June 10 - Gifts of the Garden Series 1

• July 9 - Nature Discovery Kids Camps

• July 16 - Nature Discovery Kids Camps

• July 15 - Gifts of the Garden Series 2

• July TBD - NABA Butterfly Count

• Aug. 10 - Perseid meteor shower viewing party

• Aug. 12 - Gifts of the Garden Series 3

• Sept. 15 or 22 - Butterfly Festival

• Sept. 19 - Ninth annual second-grade Wetlands Day for Barton County students

• Oct. 4 - KWEC host Joint chamber coffee and ribbon cutting for new exhibits

• October TBD - Hunter Appreciation Day and Breakfast

• TBD - Star gazing workshop by FHSU Astronomy Club

• Dec. 1 - KWEC holiday open house

• Dec. 17 - Cheyenne Bottoms Christmas bird count

 In noting the facilities successes from the past year, Kansas Wetlands Education Center Director Curtis Wolf said it is important to thank all those who made it possible.

“The Kansas Wetlands Education Center remains dependent on numerous partners for our operation,” he told the Barton County Commission Monday morning. In an effort to recognize this cooperation, he presented a summation of KWEC’ s 2017 annual report. 

The Kansas Wetlands Education Center, a branch of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, is operated by Fort Hays State University personnel. The facility overlooks the 19,857 acre Cheyenne Bottom Wildlife Area managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Park and Tourism and the 7,694 acre Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. 

“2017 was a really good year,” he said. 

“In 2017, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center continued its excellence in providing services, events, and education to a wide market of visitors to Cheyenne Bottoms, the Great Bend area, and central Kansas,” he said. Typical visitors include students, travelers, and local populations. 

Total contacts (24,484) increased 6.6 percent from 2016, he said. Program offerings increased to a total of 692 programs, including school and library programs, recreation commission programs, social/ professional meetings, special events, and regular public programs.

But, he said a big part of that increase was the drop-in traffic, including those who visited the center for no particular program. That number was up 8 percent.

The number served was up from the 2016 total of 22,968. This total includes on-site programs, outreach programs, facility rentals, contacts at tradeshows/festivals and volunteers utilized.

“I am still very proud of what we do in terms of programing,” Wolf said. In all, the center offered over 700 programs, most of which served school children in the county at all grade levels.

“The Center continues to improve our visitor services, on-site programming, off-site programming, and facilities planning,” Wolf said. “Staff are committed to providing all visitors to the area a quality experience as they discover or rediscover our local natural resource of Cheyenne Bottoms.”

“You guys do rally good work out there,” commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. She noted that her grandchildren have taken advantage of the program and have enjoyed their experiences.

As the USD 428 public information officer, Schartz said she also appreciates the programs shared with the students.

The byway

Wolf also reported on the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway. “We’ve had a nice resurgence of the byway committee,” he said.

The county has been actively involved with the byway since its inception. Wolf thanked county Cartographer Bj Wooding and others with the county for their continued support.

For three or four years, not much happened, he said. But, “we are really on track now.”

They are discussing ideas for marketing, setting goals and updating the interpretive signage. 

The 77-mile Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway that connects the two has become a way of tieing the refuges together and a crucial way of telling their stories. This route is now both a way to highlight their ecological significance and an important economic development tool for the region.

Established in 2002, this byway region has been named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas.

Kansas has 12 byways, nine scenic byways and three historic byways. Two of the scenic routes, the Wetlands and Wildlife and the Flint Hills, have national scenic byway status.

Looking down the road

This year is looking good as well, he said. “We look forward to our continued partnerships and exciting prospects for 2018.” 

He then offered 2017 center highlights:

• Winter Kids Program Series

• Two Nature Discovery Kids Summer Camps (these were new this year)

, Bioacoustics presentation (56 participants)

• Turtle Tots preschool program series

• Quarterly Craft Workshop Series (four workshops)

• Special Spring Break activity offerings

• Wings ‘N Wetlands Festival (83 paid registrants from 17 states)

• CKPC Nature Photography Workshop (24 participants)

• Gifts of the Garden Series (three workshops)

• North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Count

• Perseids Meteor Shower Viewing (90 participants)

• Solar Eclipse Viewing Party (348 participants)

• Butterfly Festival (696 participants) - highest recorded attendance

• KWEC Craft Festival (over 100 participants)

• Hunter Appreciation Breakfast (187 participants)

• KWEC Holiday Open House (112 participants)

• Special Christmas Break activity offerings

• Participated in several local/regional exhibitions: Exploration Place Earth Day Event, Great Plains Nature Center Walk with Wildlife, and Ellis Co. Fair Education Programs

• Conducted 493 school programs with most area schools and added several new schools

• Regular programming with USD 428, Great Bend Recreation Commission, local retirement homes, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Summer Library programs

• Implemented two new multi-day Summer Camps-Nature Discovery Kids Camps

• Expanded visitor activities during Spring Break week and Christmas week

• Maintained several citizen science programs: Cheyenne Bottoms FrogWatch Chapter, NABA Butterfly Count, Monarch Butterfly tagging. Cheyenne Bottoms Christmas Bird Count

• Offered 125 paid van tours plus 57 paid prairie-chicken lek tours

Wolf also noted several improvements:

• Beginning KWEC Exhibit Renovation project

• Designed and installed new Cheyenne Bottoms map and Recent Bird Sightings Exhibit in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy

• Hosted Nature Explore planning session with KWEC focus group

• Eagle Scout project installed fire pit near KWEC shelter

• New phone system installed

• Computer, server, and network upgrades.

Along with the county, Wolf said other partners included the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the Nature Conservancy, the City of Great Bend and Convention and Visitors Bureau, Friends of Cheyenne Bottoms, FHSU, the Great Bend Recreation Commission, Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, the Barton County Conservation District and USD 428.

Wolf was busy Monday. Following his presentation to the commission in the morning, he gave his report again that night to the Great Bend City Council.