Contact Us
  • Roger Boyd
  • Director of Natural Areas and Emeritus Professor of Biology
  • 785.594.3172
  • rboyd@bakerU.edu
  • P.O. Box 65
  • Baker University
  • Baldwin City, KS 66006
Photos

Long-Range Plans for the Baker Wetlands

Growth in and around Lawrence is inevitable. Historically, growth increases traffic. What can be done to allow development, growth and improved traffic flow but protect the Baker Wetlands from encroachment and isolation?

Rationale for Completion of the SLT on 32nd Street

Emergent vegetation in Night-Heron Shallows

What will the area look like in the future?
The Baker Wetlands is a natural area and one of its characteristics is that it is always changing, from season to season and from year to year. Succession is a process that tends to change the type of vegetation present over time. Much of the management of the area is aimed at maintaining as much non-woody vegetation (grasses, sedges, flowers and so on) as possible. But, in spite of these efforts, there are certainly more trees than there were 40-plus years ago when Baker University acquired the area.

The area is roughly a square mile, which seems like a large area, but the wildlife that live here and the people who visit are greatly affected by what goes on outside and adjacent to the Wetlands.

What is the future of these adjacent areas?
The area is bordered by two-lane paved roads on the west, north and east sides. It is buffered on the south by the Wakarusa River, but the two large peninsulas are owned privately and are not accessible to visitors (Site Map). Douglas County and the City of Lawrence are in the process of extending 31st Street on the north side of the Wetlands to connect to O’Connell Road, which is a mile to the east. If the SLT is not completed on the 32nd Street alignment, the city and county plan to expand 31st Street to four lanes. With increased traffic and safety concerns, it is unlikely that access to the Wetlands from 31st Street will be able to continue. Douglas County also has tentative plans to widen Haskell Avenue (County Road 1055) to four lanes because of current traffic levels. Areas south of the Wakarusa River are designated as an Urban Growth Area. As development continues, it will only be a matter of time before Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street will be widened to four lanes. Building the SLT south of the river, or not building it at all, will further stimulate this development and increase traffic on the arterial roads surrounding the Baker Wetlands.

Because of these developments, it is very likely that the Baker Wetlands will become surrounded on three sides with four-lane roads, and access to the Wetlands will become extremely limited. This type of development will also decrease the diversity of wildlife living here and threaten the solitude of the area for its residents and visitors. Much of the surrounding area is in floodplain, and development opportunities are currently prohibited. However, over the years, the City/County Planning Commission has shown that these restrictions are open to exceptions, and development is only banned in the actual floodway.

How will the mitigation plan for the South Lawrence Trafficway 32nd Street Alignment change this?
The mitigation plan that wetland specialists have developed will expand and buffer the current property as well as make it more accessible to the public. Both Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street will be moved to create this buffer. Additional parking areas, expanded trails and boardwalks, noise walls, a hike and bike trail, a visitor’s center, observation tower, and a public education program will all benefit those who visit the area. Along with these physical improvements, a funding mechanism will be established to provide perpetual care, maintenance and staffing of the visitor center and property. Baker University has been a good steward of this land with the intent of maintaining it for future generations. Everyone involved in designing the mitigation believes that the mitigation plan will ultimately benefit the plant and wildlife residents as well as human visitors.

Benefits of Mitigation

More Wetland Acres

The greatest benefit to any wildlife area is increased acreage. The trafficway will impact approximately 56 acres. The mitigation plan will expand the Baker Wetlands by more 380 acres. Most of the land adjacent to the current Wetlands were wetlands before white settlers drained the area for crops more than 150 years ago. Approximately 140 acres of cropland to the west of Louisiana Street are currently being restored to wetlands. As construction of the road begins, an additional 20 to 30 acres of wetlands will be restored in this same area and approximately 130 to 150 acres to the east of Haskell Avenue will also be restored to wetlands. Approximately 50 acres of upland prairie will be restored in areas above the floodplain and several riparian woodlands will also be restored to riparian hardwoods.

Major components of the mitigation plan for the South Lawrence Trafficway:

outcomesOfMitigation

Improved Access

As development in the area continues, access will become a major problem. Mitigation plans, however, will include four new access points, with parking areas at each location. The main access point will be at the new visitor center on the hill overlooking the entire area from the west end. Access points will also be located on Haskell Avenue at N. 1250 Road and at both Wakarusa River bridges. All will be designed for multiple-use visitors.

New Visitor Center

Baker University’s mission for the Wetlands has always been "Education, Research, and Restoration of Natural Habitats.” In the past, no permanent facilities existed and no personnel were regularly available to support field trips and provide information. A visitor center will be constructed overlooking the restored Wetlands to the west. The location is on a hill that has an excellent view of the Wakarusa floodplain for several miles to the east. A full-time staff member as well as work-study students and volunteer docents will provide professional-quality field trips for thousands of students from the area each year. This facility and program will ensure understanding of the functions and values of wetlands for future generations. Educational displays, trails, a new boardwalk, signage and brochures will be developed for casual visitors as well.

Drawing of proposed visitors center

Artistic Rendition of the Proposed Visitor Center

Hike & Bike Trail, Noise Walls, Buffers

The design of the South Lawrence Trafficway includes a hike and bike trail on top of a 6-foot raised berm parallel to the trafficway on the south side with a 6-foot-tall noise wall on top of that. This will provide an excellent view of the Wetlands to the south of the trafficway while effectively screening the noise from this busy road. The presence of trees along the berm will further reduce the road noise that enters the Wetlands. In addition, as mentioned earlier, Louisiana Street will be removed and relocated half a mile to the west, and Haskell Avenue will be removed and relocated 1,000 feet to the east. Moving both of these roads will create an additional buffer to the original wet meadow tracts that occur in the core area of the Wetlands. The construction of the trafficway will disturb less than 10 percent of the existing Wetlands. After construction, the remaining 90 percent of the original Wetlands will be intact and functional and will be minimally affected by the presence of the trafficway.

Improved Municipal Utilities

The main water lines for both Baldwin City and Rural Water District #4 are located in an easement inside the Baker Wetlands. This easement was established in the mid-1970s when the area was still cultivated and was not functional wetlands. Now that the area has been restored to wetlands, maintenance of these water lines is difficult because of the presence of saturated soils and often standing water. Moving Haskell Street to the east would provide an opportunity to construct a shoulder along the new alignment wide enough to accommodate both water-line easements. This would greatly reduce maintenance costs for both entities.

Perpetual Stewardship

Through the vision and hard work of Baker University and its staff, we now have these treasured Wetlands. Over the past 40 years they have been restored from cropland to a vibrant wetland habitat with a wide variety of species. Baker University’s acquisition and stewardship of this property has ensured the continued use of these Wetlands for education and research, the public’s enjoyment, and a model of natural habitat restoration for future generations. Expanding the acreage and building and staffing a visitor center through funds provided by the mitigation plan will allow Baker University to continue to promote that vision of a vibrant, healthy and beneficial wetland ecosystem that can be enjoyed by citizens throughout the region and into the future.