BAKER WETLANDS | Hands-On Learning Experience
One of the most diverse habitats in Kansas, the Baker Wetlands encompasses 927 acres of rich, natural wildlife. Students, faculty, and nature lovers have identified 278 species of birds, 98 other vertebrate species, and 487 plant species at the Wetlands — and these counts grow with each adventure. This exceptional environment gives students the unique opportunity for increased exploration and education about biological and ecological processes.
One of the Most Beautiful Spots in the Country
The Baker Wetlands is stunning. But don’t just take our word for it: Check out what HouseBeautiful magazine said when it declared the Wetlands the most beautiful place in Kansas.
THE BAKER WETLANDS AND DISCOVERY CENTER
The Baker Wetlands and Discovery Center is paradise for our student biologists, ecologists, biochemists, and pre-health professionals. But our students aren’t the only beneficiaries of the stunning 927-acre natural habitat. Stargazers, bird watchers, and exercise enthusiasts are always bustling around the area, which is open to the public. Located just 10 miles north of the Baldwin City Campus, the Baker Wetlands is a true distinction for the university in its region.
DISCOVERY CENTER HOURS
September 1 – May 31
9 a.m. – Noon & 1 – 3 p.m. Monday – Saturday
1 – 3 p.m. Sunday
June 1 – August 30
9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday
1 – 4 p.m. Sunday
The Wakarusa and Kansas River floodplains have developed since the Pre-Illinoian Glacial Period ended more than 300,000 years ago. Learn more about their development and how the mitigation has helped the Wetlands grow to where they are at today.
More than 11 miles of trails are open from dawn to dusk so you can hike the Wetlands to your heart’s content.
• The area is open dawn to dusk (daylight hours).
• Dogs must be on a leash to protect others on the trail and the wildlife.
• No boating, including canoes and kayaks, allowed.
• Take only pictures; leave only footprints.
HISTORY OF THE BAKER WETLANDS
The Wakarusa and Kansas River floodplains have developed since the Pre-Illinoian Glacial Period ended more than 300,000 years ago. The two rivers differ significantly from each other because of the actions of this glacier and their source. The Kansas River primarily runs through various layers of sandstone and therefore its sandy substrate allows for significant meandering across a very wide basin. The Wakarusa, however, cuts through an area that was less impacted by glaciers and consists primarily of slate, shale, limestone, silt and clay. The channel is more resistant to movement and thus the meanders in the past have been less significant, and its valley is much narrower. Its banks are steep and muddy.
Ice Age Development
For thousands of years the Wakarusa River flooded, and as it did, much of the larger particles settled out of the flood waters close to the bank, and very fine particles would settle into the lower locations to the north. Over the centuries, a natural levee was created along the Wakarusa River due to the build-up of these larger particles. The area away from the river to the north ended up remaining lower and consisting of very fine heavy clay soils. For example, the area along the old alignment of 31st Street is approximately five feet lower than the ground along the river bank, nearly one mile to the south. There is an additional man-made levee along the river today as well. The build-up of extremely fine soil particles as well as being lower is what has made this area a wetland over thousands of years in the past. The very fine soil particles have formed clay, which keeps water from percolating down through the soil very quickly.
This area was historically used by American Indians of the Kanza tribe and then later by various eastern tribes that were moved to this area by soldiers of the European white settlers. Several archaeological sites in the region have been investigated. The closest known site is to the west of US Highway 59 just south of the current movie theater. Also several sites were investigated before Clinton Lake was filled. In spite of extensive searches and decades of plowing, no archaeological sites or artifacts have been located within the area of the original Baker Wetlands.
The original Baker Wetlands was located in Section 18 of Township 13 South, Range 19 East. This section of 640 acres was divided into four parcels of 160 acres each and was homesteaded in 1854. An early historical map of Douglas County dated 4 July 1857 shows that these four parcels were homesteaded by G.V. Eskridge (NW), M. Groat (NE), H. Sebelius (SE – not sure of spelling of last name), and J.N. Coffey (SW). No information has been found about how much agricultural activity was carried out by these early pioneers, and some of these parcels possibly changed hands several times before becoming part of the Haskell Farm. This early map also shows a bridge located less than a quarter mile east of the current bridge on Louisiana Street. At least initially this was a simple raft that was pulled across the river using draft animals. The raft would have been tethered to a rope anchored on both sides of the river. Prior to the establishment of agriculture upstream, the Wakarusa River banks were probably much shallower than today. An obvious “shoulder” can be seen in several locations along the bank. Agriculture loosens the soil that then flows into the creeks and rivers and acts as the major force of erosion, scouring away the bottom and banks of the river, making the banks deeper and steeper.
Earlier pioneer accounts indicate that before settlement, the wagons along the Oregon/California Trail either crossed the Wakarusa at Blue Jacket, five to six miles to the east, or about 300 yards downstream from the later bridge. According to pioneer accounts, this crossing was managed by using the wagon’s own oxen to lower the wagons down the south (or possibly east) bank, and then the wagons were pulled up the opposite bank by a team of mules that were owned by a American Indian that lived on the bank. Several cuts in the bank have been located on private land that suggest that many of the wagons were brought up those cut slopes.
In 1883, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) began purchasing land to establish the Haskell Institute, a boarding school for American Indians. The original purchases were north, located in Section 7. Between the late 1890s and 1902, BIA purchased the four parcels in Section 18. It was indicated that this land was to become part of the Haskell Farm and be a component of the educational mission of Haskell Institute as well as to grow food for its occupants.
Haskell archives indicate that between 1917 and 1927 a number of projects were carried out by the federal government on Haskell’s behalf that were aimed at draining the area for agricultural use. Much of the land was “bedded,” which refers to the construction of linear raised strips alternating with troughs or shallow ditches to drain an otherwise very flat field. Early aerial photos clearly show these strips throughout the entire property. This is a technique that is used in most flat, floodplain fields even today. A large subterranean tile system was also installed in the north-central and south-central fields and drained to the river. This tile was 26 inches in diameter, and because it was literally draining up-hill toward the river, it had to keep going deeper and deeper in order to function. This tile was 20 feet below the surface by the time it emptied into the river. A levee was also constructed all the way around the perimeter to keep flood waters out. The levee on the north contained eight or more culverts with one-way valves to facilitate water flowing out of the property and into the drainage canal on the outside. These one-way flapper valves prevented high waters in the canal from flowing back into the agricultural fields. Three larger drainage ditches were constructed in 1922: the E-W canal on the outside of the north levee, another E-W canal south of the center road, and a N-S canal in the center of the east half that drains to the river. All of the fields within the levee ultimately drained into one of these canals.
An aerial map dated 1937 shows that through these agricultural activities all but three small parcels had been plowed. The northwest 140 acres had been converted to non-native cool-season grasses for pasture. A windmill was located on the north side of the canal that filled a concrete tank on the south side of the levee as well as another concrete tank located south of the north gate. The three small parcels that weren’t plowed were apparently maintained for hay and consisted of 15, 10 and 35 acres. It is likely that much of this hay was cordgrass, which was heavily used for thatching roofs of outbuildings. It does not make very good hay for animals to eat, but these may have been the only hay fields available on the Haskell Farm.
In 1934 the educational mission at Haskell changed and no longer included agricultural training. BIA began leasing the ground to local farmers. Then in the 1950s, a significant portion of the acreage was declared by the Department of the Interior as surplus land. Parcels of this land were given to the city to construct Broken Arrow School and South Junior High (Billy Mills Middle School) to the county to build Broken Arrow Park; to the State Biological Survey, which was later transferred to the University of Kansas; and another 20 acres to the Kansas Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission, which later became the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. What remained was an odd-shaped parcel of approximately 573 acres.
One of the purposes of forming the State Biological Survey was to acquire the remaining Haskell property in Section 18 for the purpose of creating a wildlife refuge. Dr. E. Raymond Hall, then director of the University of Kansas Natural History Museum and the State Biological Survey, was mainly responsible for the early efforts to save the “Haskell Bottoms,” as it was commonly referred to. Hall attempted to have control of the 573 acres transferred to the State Biological Survey for the purpose of developing a largely urban refuge, styled after one in Los Angeles. The area would largely be managed for waterfowl because none of the large reservoirs currently in Kansas had been constructed yet. Hall anticipated that development of the refuge would be funded through continued farm leases as the area was converted back to wildlife habitat. It was then discovered that the Quit Claim deed through which the transfer would occur, would prevent earning money from the property for 30 years. Several other attempts were made to have the University of Kansas carry out the effort with funding coming from the state. None of those plans were successful.
Baker University Acquisition
This remaining parcel of 573 acres was transferred as surplus government property from the Department of Interior to the General Services Administration. Several commercial ideas had surfaced for the land, such as a municipal golf course or a regional airport. Before his retirement, Dr. Hall came to his longtime friend, Dr. Ivan L. Boyd, at Baker University. They concluded that a smaller university with less red tape, bureaucracy and overhead might be able to make the process of preserving and restoring this property work. In April 1967, the property was transferred to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Through the encouragement of Hall and Boyd, Baker University President James Edward Doty filed a successful application in May 1968 to receive the parcel of land for the purposes of education, research and preservation of the remaining virgin wet meadows. Baker University received the property free of charge through a 30-year Quit Claim Deed in August 1968.
Dr. Ivan Boyd believed that even though the area no longer drained as effectively as in 1920, with the construction of Clinton Dam in the next couple of years it was unlikely that flooding of the area would be frequent enough to convert the area to wetlands. Such efforts would also require expensive earth-moving, costing money that he didn’t have. However, Dr. Boyd was able to continue to lease the farm ground and pasture in exchange for labor and use of the farm equipment instead of cash. This would control weeds and trees and allow him to establish several small single-species stands of big bluestem, switchgrass and indiangrass. The ground was too damp to establish little bluestem. The seed from these stands were then harvested to provide seed to replant more and more of the farm ground. During these early years, Dr. Boyd also had to contend with a substantial land fill and several pieces of large, abandoned construction equipment. The dump had been originally created by Haskell Institute, but the lack of gates encouraged local residents to use it as well. This was located along both sides of the river levee south of the current natural gas facilities. Once the influx of additional trash was stopped through construction of larger and larger gates, the refuse was bulldozed into a pile on the south side of the levee, along with 200 yards of construction rubble hauled there over the years from the Haskell campus. Fortunately, before 1968, most of the trash was nontoxic and biodegradable. Much of the scrap metal and tin has been removed and recycled, and the paper and wood products have long since decayed.
Dr. Ivan Boyd was also interested in establishing a diverse prairie, not one with the half-dozen forbs that might be included in CRP mixes today. His students collected thousands of seeds from local prairies and performed various tests on the seeds to determine what conditions caused them to germinate the best. He established 50 study plots to the north of the present gas company site to conduct their various germination studies. From these studies, several fairly diverse prairie plots were established.
Dr. Ivan Boyd was killed in a tragic tractor accident March 18, 1982 while conducting a prescribed burn with his students. He was 78 and died doing what he loved to do: restoring native habitats and teaching students. Dr. Boyd was a scoutmaster for Troop 65 in Baldwin for 41 years, and a campground was built in his honor along the river. Use of the area can be arranged by through the Baker Wetlands staff.
When Dr. Roger Boyd became manager of the area in 1982, no major changes were planned. Dr. Boyd was able to finish planting the few remaining cultivated plots to prairie grasses and some forbs. These were not as diverse as some of the earlier plots, but at least they were predominately prairie. Through contacts with some of his former students, Dr. Boyd became aware of the possibility of funding through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to restore wetlands. Working with Jim Minnerath and Greg Kramos, a plan was devised to use Partners for Wildlife Program funding to reverse the drainage patterns established by BIA in the 1920s. Breaks in the levees over the decades had allowed water to flow in at high stages but just as quickly, flow out as water receded. Beginning in 1991, these breaks were repaired, several access roads were elevated so they would remain functional, several levees were constructed to develop manageable pools and water control structures were installed. These activities increased water levels after rains for short durations while still allowing the water to disappear fairly quickly.
Dr. Boyd and his students discovered several brick chimney-like structures of unknown function and discovered several sink holes in the north central field. It was assumed that the sink holes were associated with a drainage system, but the origin and destination of this system were not known. Again, one of Dr. Boyd’s students came to the rescue. He discovered a large plume of clean water coming out of the bank of the Wakarusa River. Upon investigation, it was discovered to be coming out of a large pile of rocks on the bank, but the river was too high for the source to be seen. This was before the availability of inexpensive GPS units, so the students lined up at each of the sink holes and chimneys with a pole and flag and discovered that they were, in fact, all in a straight line. A search in the Haskell archives produced a map of an elaborate plan to tile the entire section. Through various investigations it was determined that only a portion of this plan had been completed. Another grant in 1995 allowed excavation of the tile close to the river. Once excavated (the tile was 20 feet deep at that location), a 50-foot section of the tile was destroyed and plugged with clay to prevent it from working. This had a major positive impact on water retention: It was like putting the plug back in the bathtub!
The next major project was building a large water-control structure at the south end of the large north-south canal (Mink Creek on the site map). All surface waters would eventually exit through this canal. This was funded by Western Resources (now Westar).
Since the restoration of the original wetlands was begun in 1991, a number of other enhancements have been completed. A Boardwalk was constructed out of recycled plastic lumber near the north gate that was close to old 31st Street between 1992 and 1994. It was built in five sections by the Baldwin Boy Scouts. The section leaders were Jon Boyd, John Paden, Ben Tutschulte, Mike Curran and David Pressgrove. An information kiosk was built on the north levee in 1994 by Nate Kettle for his Eagle Scout badge, and a storage shed was built later that same year by the Boyd family. Construction of these projects was provided by a long list of volunteers, but the bulk of the funding came from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Western Resources, and Jayhawk Audubon. These structures were all removed in 2013 to make way for the construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway. An observation blind was built in 1998 along 35th Street near the center of the Wetlands by a group of Baldwin Boy Scouts under the leadership of Dr. Boyd and one of his students, Scott Kimball, and largely funded by Jayhawk Audubon. In the summer of 2007 Alex Coffey built the pergola near the center intersection for his Eagle Scout project. This was jointly funded by Jayhawk Audubon and Wakarusa Chapter of the Sierra Club. In 2008, a picnic pavilion was built along Mink Creek at 35th Street by Jan, Jon, Mary and Roger Boyd. The pavilion, educational panels and location map were funded by the Spiva Timmons Foundation. Other enhancements include nesting structures throughout the property for Wood Ducks, Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and bats.
In 1992 Dr. Boyd initiated the spring Wetlands Field Day. This event had several purposes: 1) educate the public about the Baker Wetlands and their value, 2) let the public know that they were open for them to walk, jog, and explore, 3) get the various presenting agencies to buy into what we were doing, 4) provide Baker students an opportunity to interact with the public and demonstrate their knowledge, and 5) develop a love for the Baker Wetlands within the public. The last of these occurred in 2001. Each year at least 400 people visited the wetlands during this event. Since the Discovery Center has opened, the Wetlands staff has initiated a Family Fun Day in late April, which is similar to the Field Day. Check our Facebook page for dates.
South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT)
Discussion about a road bypassing the west and south of Lawrence actually began in 1985, only a year after the K-10 freeway between Kansas City and Lawrence was completed. At that time K-10 traveled down 23rd Street and terminated at Iowa Street. Over the years, several routes were discussed. The initial route discussed with Baker University was to be on 35th Street, directly through the middle of the wetlands. It was determined that this would be problematic because of the National Natural Landmark status of the Baker Wetlands. The focus then turned to 31st Street. It was determined in 1994 to proceed with the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway. The western leg was completed in 1996. It connected I-70 on the west, around the western edge of Lawrence, and terminated at the “Bridge to Nowhere” over US 59. By 1999 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) concluded that 31st Street would not be a viable alternative because of its direct impact on Haskell Indians Nations University property.
However, the death of the SLT was short lived. KDOT attorney Mike Rees approached Baker University administration officials in early 2001 about allowing the SLT and a realigned 31st Street to be built along what was to become the 32nd Street alignment. After working with several outside environmental consultants and Jim Minnerath and Greg Kramos of USFWS, it was concluded that for several reasons the 32nd Street alignment would be better for the long-term health of the Wetlands than the only alternative of going south of the Wakarusa River. In the mid-1990s the City of Lawrence had declared much of the land south of the river to be an urban growth area (UGA). Speculations were that as many as 20,000 people could be living south of the Wakarusa by 2020. Primarily because of the economic recession, this growth didn’t happen in the anticipated timeframe, but it is still likely to happen. In 2018 seven or eight development projects were actively building houses . The new sewage treatment plant will be open on the south side sometime during spring 2018.
If the SLT was built south of the river, then 31st Street would still be in place and plans had been developed to widen it to four lanes fairly quickly. Because of the very narrow right-of-way in the strip, Baker University would lose its north entrance access. The county started to examine the possibility of widening both Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street to four lanes as well. The projected growth south of the river was assumed to be by people who would work and shop in Lawrence, thus the need for these four-lane streets was critical The SLT south of the river might allow people around Lawrence, but local people would increasingly need to travel north and south as well. Widening Haskell to four lanes would further impede our easy access from the east gate.
Baker University concluded that a completed SLT south of the river would stimulate construction of four-lane roads on three sides of the Wetlands; it would increase noise, pollution and road kills and would dramatically reduce movement of animals in and out of the Wetlands as well as seriously hindering our access to the property. It was determined that with the appropriate mitigation plan in place, we would be able to expand the wetlands, increase our public access and education programs and, at the same time, sacrifice a small portion of the existing restored wetlands to allow the 32nd Street alignment to be completed.
A political element was involved as well in that President Dan Lambert did not want Baker University to be an impediment to completing the SLT because discussions had been going on for over 15 years already. At Dr. Lambert’s request, Dr. Roger Boyd began working with several outside consultants as well as the HNTB Engineering firm in Kansas City to develop a mitigation plan that would meet all of Baker University’s criteria. This plan was outlined in the draft Environmental Impact Statement that was released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) in 2002. The USACOE had several highly contentious public hearings to receive input on the project. The USACOE signed their Record of Decision to approve the 32nd Street alignment in December 2003. After the first of the year Gov. Sebelius appointed HNTB attorney Deb Miller as secretary of KDOT. Deb Miller reminded proponents of the SLT that the Kansas highway plan that was accepted by the state legislature in 2000 was a 10-year plan and that there were no funds available for the project in this funding cycle. Sen. Pat Roberts included a $1.5 million earmark to “jump start” the SLT in the 2006 Federal Highway bill. FHWA became the lead agency for the SLT in 2006 because of this funding and began the process of re-assessing the EIS. FHWA accepted the USACOE EIS in 2006 and began their own 4(f) study, which concluded in 2008. Dr. Boyd made a presentation to KDOT and FHWA officials in spring 2008 requesting that some of the federal funding from the Transportation Bill could be used to demonstrate that wetland restoration works. By the time the next round of public hearings came about, the presence of these restored wetlands might quell some of the fears expressed by the opponents to the road.
South Lawrence Trafficway: Phase I
Beginning in September 2008, Baker University, under the leadership of Dr. Roger L. Boyd, started the conversion of 140 acres of cropland back to wetlands. The project was approved by an agreement with Kansas Department of Transportation and financed by funds from the Federal Transportation bill of 2006.
The area that was used for Phase I was located west of Louisiana Street and between the Wakarusa River and 31st Street. These crop fields were within the 100-year floodplain, and a significant portion of the south half (Tract B) was part of the floodway. These acres had been wetlands before conversion to crop fields in the 1800s, just like the Old Haskell Farm, which is now referred to as the Baker Wetlands. As such, the soils were hydric (they are heavy, dense clays that hold water), hydric vegetation was present, and the area could easily hold water for a portion of the year. Our surveys in the fall of 2008 located 14 species of hydric plants along the drainage ditches within this area.
The public often referred to this as creating wetlands. However, since the soils were still intact, this was truly a restoration of wetlands that used to be here. The significance is that a vast majority of the wetland mitigation projects in this country fail because mitigation projects attempt to create new wetlands where they had not previously occurred (no hydric soils) and because monitoring is inadequate. A study by the National Academy of Science found that more than 70 percent of created wetlands fail. Restoration projects, however, succeed more than 80 percent of the time.
The process of restoring these wetlands began as soon as the crops were harvested in the fall of 2008. The corn stalks were mowed so they would not interfere with the earth movers. We established a permanent hectare grid across both tracts. We also began collecting seeds in the original Baker Wetlands and elsewhere around the county. Seeds from 42 species were collected, with a total weight of 12,000 grams. Next, the location and shape of the swales were marked in the field using a tractor and three-bottom plow. The swales were then excavated using earth movers. The swales were excavated to either 6 inches, 12 inches or 18 inches deep and from 16 feet to 64 feet wide. The length of each swale varied from 60 feet to nearly 1,200 feet, and the pattern is random, all depending on the initial site plan. Fifty-seven swales were excavated, requiring the removal of more 56,000 cubic yards of soil. Some of this soil was used to construct the berms that parallel Louisiana Street and N. 1250 Road.
The purpose of these swales is to disrupt the linear pattern created by agriculture over the past century, to create a pattern similar to the meanders, swales, and oxbows that might typically be found in an active, untouched floodplain and to create a variety of habitats for plants and wildlife. Some swales will retain water much longer than others. This will stimulate the presence of different species of hydric plants and thus the presence of different invertebrates and aquatic vertebrates. Several swales will go dry periodically, and this will eliminate the presence of fish, which can be fierce predators on tadpoles and other aquatic invertebrates.
The collected seeds were dispersed around the perimeters of the swales in mid-April 2009 and many germinated fairly soon afterward. Plant surveys were made in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Species diversity grew from 35 to 89 species. Percentage of hydric plant coverage (an indicator of wetland condition) grew from 89% to 94%. This indicates that even the first-year survey indicated the area was a wetland. Over the convening years the quality of hydric plants increased tremendously.
Another component of the plan was regulation of water levels. This was accomplished through two water-control structures (WCS). The location of these structures is in the northeast corners of both tracts. Tract A drains only about 80 acres, so the amount of run-off is relatively small. Tract B, however, drains about 650 acres beginning on the west side of US Highway 59. This larger drainage area delivers more water into the tract, so a much larger outlet must be in place. The long-term goal is to have the levels be static, but staff will have the ability to manipulate outflow if that is necessary.
Completion of SLT & Mitigation: Phase II
In 2010 the state legislature established another 10-year highway funding bill for the state. KDOT began a process of formalizing which projects would be funded in each of KDOT’s regional districts. The SLT project received the highest ranking of any project in the Northeast District and was included in the 10-year funding plan called T-Works. Bids were let in September 2013 and construction of the SLT began immediately.
Opponents of the SLT claimed that the Wetlands were “pristine” and should not be disrupted. They were 80% cultivated when Baker University acquired them in 1968. In addition to that, there two 26-inch diameter high-pressure natural gas lines that entered the Wetlands from the south under the river. They deliver gas from Oklahoma to Kansas City, Lawrence, and Topeka through a network of gas lines that were placed in Section 18 in the 1930s. There was also a high-tension power line that has run through the north half of the section since the 1950s. Both of these utilities had to be realigned before construction of the SLT. The pipelines were relocated to parallel the existing roads and were put in place through directional drilling, which minimized surface disturbance. The power line was relocated just outside the new KDOT right-of-way on the south side of the SLT. Most of the old poles were removed except for three sets that remain for raptor perches. The water line for Baldwin City and Rural Water District #4 that had been in place since the 1970s was abandoned and relocated east of O’Connell Road. One utility that was added during construction was two forced-main sewer lines that connect the pump station at 31st and Louisiana streets to the new sewage treatment plant south of the river.
To facilitate construction of the restoration areas and to provide the contractor with fill for the SLT roadbed, plans were drawn showing location, size, shape, and depth of retention basins. All of these were within the original Wakarusa floodplain and the substrate consisted of hydric soils. These drawings were provided to the contractor. A total of approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of fill were moved to create the pools and uplands that are the basis for the wetlands and prairie restoration.
In the early 1990s we installed shallow observation wells to monitor ground water depth in the original wetlands. In all there were nine sets of wells at 8-, 16-, and 24-foot depths. Those wells were monitored monthly for 10 years. We also established six more wells in tracts A and B to the west of Louisiana Street in 2009. Those wells were monitored for three years. What was discovered is that the water table fluctuates more in the wells closer to the river and less so farther to the north. The water table is often three to four feet below the surface except in very dry periods when it may be 8 to 15 feet. The pools of water in the Baker Wetlands are what is referred to as “perched,” meaning the water is in a surface basin without necessarily being in contact with the water table. Because of the very heavy, tight clay soils in this floodplain. very little percolation of water occurs in the bottom of these pools. The clay is simply too water tight and therefore very little recharge occurs and water loss is primarily due to evaporation.
In anticipation of the eventual construction of the SLT, a picnic pavilion was constructed in 2008 along Mink Creek and N. 1250 Road, and in 2009 a second pavilion was constructed on top of the footings for the old milk barn located at the future site of the Discovery Center. There used to be a silo next to it where the deck is today. Both pavilions contain information panels providing information about the value of wetlands, what to look for on the trails, what are the most common plants and animals, and a map of the area. There are also paper copies of the map available as well as a bird checklist and a checklist of all other vertebrates. Be sure to check out the five color-coded trails that leave from various parking lots with indicated distances from 0.39 miles to 2.46 miles. Construction of a 1,100-foot-long boardwalk down to the lake and back was completed in May 2010.
As part of the mitigation process, bird surveys have been made every two weeks since 2009. All have been posted to KS-BirdListServe and the last several years have been posted to eBird. Twenty-two species have been added since the restoration project began in 2008. Birds have the greatest ability to respond to changes in the environment and the factor they are responding to is habitat. The most critical component of wetland restoration is plants, which form the habitat for other organisms. To be defined as a wetlands, a habitat must consist of 50 percent or more plants that are considered facultative or wetter. This would include plants that are classified as obligate wetland, facultative wetland, and facultative plants. Plant surveys were conducted by estimating the percentage of coverage of plants by species within a plot one-meter square to the left and right of 113 established grid stakes throughout the project. The first survey was conducted in November of 2008 and the most recent in June of 2017. The latest survey in 2017 tallied 101 species of which 84 were classified as facultative or wetter. The breakdown in percentages was obligate wetland 73.5%, facultative wetlands 10.3%, and facultative 12.7% for a total coverage of 96.5% considered to be facultative or wetter. Wetlands, like all habitats, will change over time, but this diversity and high percentage of wetland plant coverage is indicative of a well established, yet early successional, wetlands.
Many components to the mitigation project were agreed to with KDOT in 2012. All of these components are intended to be cumulative to ensure increased wetland acres, improved wildlife habitat, and increased visitor access as well as increased appreciation for wetland habitats by the general public. The following is a list of key components of this agreement, but other benefits have developed as a result of the project:
- Baker University transferred 56 acres to KDOT for the construction of the SLT.
- A total of at least 310 acres of floodplain crop field were restored to wetlands.
- A total of 75 acres of various crop fields are being restored to prairie.
- A total of 27 acres of former crop field are being restored to native riparian forest.
- Louisiana Street was relocated half a mile west to create a buffer for the original wetland.
- Haskell Avenue was relocated a quarter mile east to create a buffer for the original wetland.
- Four new access points with public parking lots were constructed.
- Utility lines (electricity, natural gas, city water, waste water, fiber optic, telephone, and cable) are located along existing transportation corridors and removed from the interior of the wetlands.
- A noise wall was constructed on either side of the trafficway.
- A multiple-use hike and bike trail was constructed along the south side of the south noise wall.
- Over 11 miles of trails have been established within the area for the benefit of students and the public alike.
- 31st Street was relocated within the former wetlands, adjacent to the trafficway.
- The old roadbed of 31st Street was removed and ownership transferred to Haskell Indian Nations University.
- Five other area hike and bike trails tie into the SLT hike and bike trail.
- Funding was provided by KDOT to build a 12,000-square-foot Discovery Center and adjacent 3,000-square-foot storage building.
- Funding was provided by KDOT to purchase tools and equipment to assist in repairs, construction projects, and management.
- KDOT provided funding to Baker University to establish a restricted endowment to generate funds to maintain and staff the facility for the benefit of the public as well as Baker University students.
The location of the SLT or whether it should ever be built, was highly contested for many years. It was a highly divisive and contentious issue. Without the opponents and proponents of the many different ideas about the area called the Baker Wetlands, it would not be what it is today. Thanks to the ability of KDOT and Baker University to develop a variety of compromises, the much-needed SLT was completed; the Baker Wetlands were greatly expanded to benefit the wildlife; and the multiple trails, Discovery Center, and educational and recreational opportunities will benefit the thousands of visitors for generations to come.
Getting to the Baker Wetlands
Discovery Center | 1365 N. 1250 Road, Lawrence, KS 66046
The Baker Wetlands is located on the south side of Lawrence in Douglas County in northeastern Kansas, approximately 45 miles west of Kansas City.
From US 59 on the south side of the South Lawrence Trafficway and K10 interchange, turn east on N. 1250 Road and go 0.7 miles to the parking lot of the Discovery Center. Follow signs to the entrance.
From 31st Street come south on a new road called Michigan (opposite the new Mennards Store) to N 1250 Road, turn left (east) 0.2 mi to the Discovery Center parking lot.
Dr. Irene Unger
Associate Professor of Biology, Director of the Baker Wetlands | irene.unger@bakerU.edu
“I fell in love with the Baker Wetlands at first sight and am thrilled to be the director of Baker Wetlands. It was my love of nature that drove me to study ecology. I hope to instill that same love in my students while at the same time preparing them to address the pressing environmental issues of our time. I hope that all Baker students will explore the Wetlands. They are truly a special place that change daily—so come out often to see what’s in bloom or what birds have stopped over during migration!”
B.S. Truman State University, M.S. St. Louis University, Ph.D. University of Missouri at Columbia
Expertise: plant-soil-microbe interactions, terrestrial plant ecology
Office: Boyd Science Center 226 & Wetlands Discovery Center | 785.594.4702
Jonathan J. Boyd
Operations Manager | jon.boyd@bakerU.edu
Jon has grown up around the Wetlands and been active in many of its projects. One of the biggest was starting the original boardwalk for his Eagle Scout badge. Upon completion of his B.A. in Biology from Baker University in 2000, he worked with his father, Roger Boyd, on projects at the Wetlands. It was a dream come true to follow in his family’s footsteps and be named director of the Baker Wetlands. Some of his fondest memories are being at the Wetlands, learning new things, and working with family.
Office: Baker Wetlands Office, 1365 N. 1250 Road | 785.594.4701
Discovery Center Custodian | Mary has always had a passion for cleanliness and order, something the Discovery Center needs because of the large number of visitors it hosts daily and the close proximity of nearly perpetual mud. Mary has worked for the Baldwin City campus custodial staff for more than 15 years as well as at the Lawrence Arts Center. Because of her background working with the public, she is often called on to serve as building greeter when others cannot and serve as special event hostess and field project assistant.
Office: Baker Wetlands Office, 1365 N. 1250 Road | 785.594.4703
P.O. Box 65 Baldwin City, KS 66006 785-594-6451