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. 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
Baker University Acquisition
South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT)
South Lawrence Trafficway: Phase I
Phase I of the Mitigation: Restore 140 Acres of Wetlands
These crop fields are within the 100-year floodplain, and a significant portion of Tract B is 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. Those soils are still hydric and hydric plants still occur. Our surveys in the fall of 2008 located 14 species of hydric plants along the drainage ditches in both tracts. People might think we are creating wetlands on this acreage, but in fact, we are restoringwetlands 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 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 (see illustration below). 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. Examples of these seeds. 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 varies from 60 feet to nearly 1,200 feet, and the pattern is random, all depending on the initial site plan (see illustration below). 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. Wetlands restoration photos. 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. Some species, however, may take several years to germinate. The area will be monitored, and weeds will be controlled as needed. Keep in mind that what one person refers to as a weed may be excellent wildlife food and be of great ecological value. Another component of the plan is regulation of water levels. This will be accomplished through two water-control structures (WCS). The location of these structures is illustrated above by the tan arrows. The WCS in Tract A is a small plastic unit. It will be relocated during road construction. The WCS in Unit B is a large, three-bay concrete structure. In both structures, boards will be sealed into the bay, which backs up the water into the tract. Once it gets to the top of the board, it flows over and through the outlet. The height of the boards determines the depth of the water and the extent of the flooding inside the tract. Another reason for the difference in size between the two WCS is the drainage area of each tracts. Unit A drains only about 80 acres, so it can be relatively small. Tract B, however, drains about 650 acres beginning on the west side of US Highway 59. This larger drainage area will deliver more water into the tract, so a larger outlet must be in place. The process of building this larger WCS is illustrated in the Water Control Structure photo album. A lake is located in Tract B. It is slightly less than 5 acres in surface area, but its sides are steep and it is 15 feet deep. This angular pond was a “borrow pit” for fill dirt to construct the ramps on the east side of the South Lawrence Trafficway bridge over US Highway 59. Several improvements have been made to increase the wildlife value of this lake. The elevation of the lake was lowered and irregular-shaped channels were excavated around the lake to give it a more natural appearance. About a dozen cedar trees of various sizes were submerged in the lake to create fish habitat, and two floating rafts were anchored in the middle of the lake to create additional habitat. Once the WCS is closed and water is backed up in the channel, it will flood these channels around the pool, creating a shallow-water habitat around the edge. This will be beneficial to several organisms that depend on this type of habitat. Another advantage of the lake is that all runoff from the west enters the lake, allowing the silt load it carries to settle out rather than moving on down the channels and causing other problems there. In addition, the lake will serve as a discharge location from the surrounding water table, and this will provide a more continuous flow of water through the outlet channels and pools during dry weather. Down the hill from the silo is a smaller pond that serves as a settling basin. It is slightly deeper than the outlet channel and allows silt that flows into the pond to settle out so that it does not flow down to the outlet structure. Maximum depth, when full, is about three feet. In addition to monitoring vegetation, we will monitor the changes in the surrounding water table as the previous agricultural fields are rehydrated. Two monitoring wells were established in Tract A and four in Tract B for this purpose. Both are constructed of a single 10-foot-long PVC pipe, 2 inches in diameter. On the end is a foot-long screen that allows water to seep into the pipe. The well hole is sealed around the outside of the pipe to prevent surface water from entering the well. The water table is measured with an electronic tape. Measurements are added to a database that calculates the elevation of the water table, both in regards to the surface and in relation to sea level. The maximum depth of the wells is between 8 and 9 feet below the surface. In the spring of 2011 the water table was within a few inches of the ground surface to a depth of 3 feet from the surface, depending on the well. During the severe drought of summer and fall 2011, however, the water table was between 7 and 9 feet from the surface. Still not too bad for an old farm field. In 2009 we constructed a picnic pavilion on top of the footings for the old milk barn next to the silo. The pavilion contains information panels providing information about the value of wetlands, what to look for on the trails, future plans for the wetlands, and the process for restoring the wetlands along the boardwalk. Construction of an 1,800-foot walking trail has been completed, and construction of a 1,000-foot-long boardwalk down to the lake and back was completed in May 2010. 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. Eleven new species have been added to the checklist with the completion of the restoration west of Louisiana Street. Periodic surveys of the swales for fish, amphibians and aquatic organisms have been conducted. However, the most critical component of wetland monitoring is plants. Wetlands must contain more than 50 percent of facultative or wetter plants. This means obligate wetland, facultative wetland, and facultative plants. These surveys were conducted by surveying the percentage of coverage of plants by species within a plot one meter squared to the left and right of each of 56 grid stakes throughout the project. The first survey was conducted in November of 2008 and then June of 2009 through 2012. The November 2008 survey was conducted before excavation had been done. Table of data:
The table shows an increase in species diversity and a better balance of OBL vs. FACW coverage. Overall, in 2012, facultative and wetter included 53 species and 92.5 percent coverage. This was at the end of a second year of severe drought, so an even more impressive result. In 2011 there were 62 species of facultative or wetter species. The restoration to a functional wetland was rather quick and continues to improve. All that remains is help from Mother Nature and Father Time.
Completion of SLT & Mitigation: Phase II
- A total of 310 acres of floodplain crop field will be restored to wetlands.
- A total of 75 acres of various crop fields will be restored to native grassland and wildflowers.
- A total of 27 acres of former crop field will be restored to native riparian forest.
- Louisiana Street will be relocated half a mile west to create a buffer for the original wetland.
- Haskell Avenue will be relocated a quarter mile east to create a buffer for the original wetland.
- Four new access points with public parking lots will be constructed; two will be hard surfaced.
- Utility lines (electricity, natural gas, city water, waste water, telephone and cable) will be located along existing transportation corridors and removed from the interior of the wetlands.
- A multiple-use hike and bike trail will be established along the south side of the trafficway.
- A noise wall will be constructed on either side of the trafficway.
- The existing 31st Street will be relocated within the former wetlands, adjacent to the trafficway.
- The old roadbed of 31st Street will be removed.
- Five other area hike and bike trails will tie into the SLT hike and bike trail.
- Money will be provided to build a 10,000-square-foot Discovery Center and adjacent storage building.
- Money will be provided to purchase tools and equipment to assist in repairs, construction projects and management.
- Baker University will establish an endowment with KDOT funds to maintain and staff the facility.
- A new 1,100-foot-long boardwalk will be constructed by the center and possibly shorter ones in other locations.
- A network of trails will be constructed at the facility including two pedestrian bridges over Naismith Creek.
All of these components are accumulative to ensure an improved wildlife habitat and visitor access as well as increased appreciation for wetland habitats by the general public.
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. Roger Boyd
Senior Scientist & Professor Emeritus of Biology | roger.boyd@bakerU.edu The Boyd family science history runs deep at Baker. Dr. Roger Boyd has been able to both teach and develop the Baker University Wetlands into a unique learning tool—something he had been working on for 50 years that had come to fruition. His most memorable experience at Baker was teaching abroad at Harlaxton College, our partner college, and taking a group of students to Mexico 11 times as a part of the interterm experience. Ph.D. Colorado State University Expertise: ornithology, wetland and prairie ecosystems, neotropics Office: Baker Wetlands Office, 1365 N. 1250 Road | 785.594.4702
Jonathan J. Boyd
Director of Baker Wetlands | 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
Education & Outreach Specialist | jenny.kilburg@bakerU.edu Jenny has always had a passion for teaching people about the world around them, especially children. She loves watching the excitement in children as they see a bird and are able to tell what type it is. She is pleased to build on her five years of experience in nature education by expanding Wetlands programs for school groups and the public. B.S. Iowa State University Expertise: animal ecology Office: Baker Wetlands Office, 1365 N. 1250 Road | 785.594.4703
P.O. Box 65 Baldwin City, KS 66006 785-594-6451