Even a visionary like Dr. Ivan Boyd, former Baker University biology professor and member of the Faculty Hall of Fame, couldn’t have foreseen the transformation of the 573 acres deeded to Baker University in August 1968. Through Boyd’s efforts, Baker acquired the land free of charge to use for education, research, and the preservation of the existing wetland habitat. He envisioned converting all of the crop fields and pasture, which had originally been wetlands, to useful wildlife habitat and use it as a field lab for Baker students, as well as others in the community. His goal was to bring Baker students to the area to experience and be a part of the preservation and restoration process.
Today, the Wetlands encompasses 927 acres (80 percent have been restored to wetlands), more than 11 miles of hiking trails, and the Discovery Center, an 11,000-square-foot education facility. Thousands of Baker students and thousands more local school children have visited and conducted research. “All of this is way beyond his wildest expectations,” said Roger Boyd, ’69, of his father’s goals.
The Boyd family has been instrumental in the project from the beginning. Ivan Boyd was the first to oversee the wetlands. Roger, biology professor emeritus, who taught full time for nearly 30 years at Baker, was a Baker student when his father started the project and served as the education coordinator from March 2015 until August 2017. Jon Boyd, ’00, Ivan’s grandson, who grew up helping his father with several projects at the site, is the director of the Wetlands.
On June 30, Roger will retire after 42 years of service to the Wetlands and to Baker, and he is confident he is leaving this family legacy in capable hands. “Jon has been immersed, sometimes literally, in the Wetlands longer than anyone else around, except me,” Roger said. In 1994 he built the first section of the original Boardwalk to Nature as his Eagle Scout service project and was involved in many projects at the Wetlands throughout his undergraduate years at Baker University. “Jon was essential in the negotiations with KDOT [Kansas Department of Transportation] to develop the mitigation and compensation plan that was agreed to in 2012. He was the contact person for KDOT and the multiple contractors for the SLT [South Lawrence Trafficway, which was a source of conflict from 1985 until a plan was agreed to in 2012] and the Discovery Center,” he added.
In preparation for Roger’s retirement, Jenny Kilburg was hired in August 2017 to serve as the education and outreach specialist. “Jenny has only been with us for about eight months, and yet she has had a tremendous impact on our educational mission in that short period,” Roger said. “She is very enthusiastic about our mission and the potential we have.”
Killburg has been active in the popular annual monarch butterfly tagging event and has initiated the Wednesday Wee Walk for children 5 and under. The first Wee Walk attracted more than 60 children and their caregivers, so the event was expanded to Thursdays as well.
“The reason I chose the age 5 and under is to spark an interest in nature at a very young age. I want to show them how to play and learn outdoors, that not everything must revolve around a TV or tablet,” Kilburg said.
In addition, Kilburg plans and hosts a free public event about every other month. These have included a Halloween Hike, wood cookie ornament decorating event, a Random Acts of Kindness Seed Bomb event, in which visitors constructed mud balls filled with native seeds and tossed them into the Wetlands and prairie, and Family Fun Day. In May she partnered with the University of Kansas Natural History Museum to host a Bugblitz, where families captured and studied insects.
Kilburg plans these events with an eye toward balancing fun and education. Many of the events are built around a nature education component such as native plants, aquatic invertebrates, birds in the community, the importance of the wetlands environment, and biodiversity in the wetlands. “Some of these events are just for fun like the Halloween Hike and the ornament decorating event. They bring people out who have never been here and might never have come for a ‘nature’ event,” Kilburg said.
In July, Dr. Irene Unger will join the Baker biology faculty. “I believe that she will have the opportunity to connect the Wetlands more closely to the Baldwin campus of Baker University. She will be our on-campus advocate,” Roger said.
It’s undeniable that the Wetlands is a unique resource for the university. “No other university in the Midwest owns and manages a wildlife and research area like this, especially wetlands,” Roger said. But he also added, “My dad always considered the Baker Wetlands to be not only for Baker’s academic and professional benefit, but also to be a community asset held as a public trust.”
Today the Baker Wetlands has fulfilled that goal. “The first year we opened the Discovery Center we recorded over 11,000 visitors, the second year over 16,000. We are only in our third year,” Roger said. “Many of the visitors are from Lawrence, but a significant number of visitors come from out of state to visit friends and relatives. “We have become a destination to bring their visiting friends and relatives to.”
Jon seconds this sentiment, “I feel blessed every day that I get to work at an amazing place that has so many special memories for other people. To be a part of something that can impact someone in a positive way is just amazing. The Wetlands is a great place to reach the community and get the Baker name out into the community in a positive way.”