Traveling playa lakes exhibit to feature day of demonstrations, crafts, other educational activities; will remain in Colby through Feb. 28
COLBY -- The award-winning exhibit on playa lakes, "Playas: Gems of the Plains,” is open at the Prairie Museum of Art and History, 1905 S. Franklin, Colby, through Feb. 28. The display is a traveling exhibit of the Northwest Texas Museum Association. The exhibit had previously been on display at the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, where it was visited by hundreds of people of all ages.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the exhibit will feature "Kansas Day on the High Plains" from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Demonstrations, crafts, and learning activities about the High Plains will be featured. The event is for all ages and is free to the public. Refreshments will be served.

"Playas: Gems of the Plains” is a large, in-the-round display that fills an entire room. On the inside, viewers are treated to a 360-degree view of a playa lake. The outside of the exhibit features graphics and text panels, interactive displays, art, and videos that tell the history -- both local and region-wide -- of playa lakes and their function in the environment. The entire room is also filled with sound effects that mimic wildlife that rely on playas. Twenty panels -- 80 inches tall by 40 inches wide -- illustrate a wide range of topics about playa lakes.

Playa lakes are shallow, usually round wetlands with clay bottoms that lie in the lowest point of a generally large, closed watershed and collect runoff from surrounding uplands. Average size is 17 acres, and all playa lakes combined make up about 2 percent of the total shortgrass prairie landscape. Because rainfall is scarce in the region, playa lakes are dry most of the time. The normal wet-dry cycle generates a diverse plant community, which produces large quantities of nutritious seeds essential for waterfowl and other birds that migrate and winter in the region.

Playas may be the most important wetland habitat for birds in the region. More than 200 bird species are known to use playas during the breeding, wintering, or migrating seasons.

Playas are also the primary source of recharge for the Ogallala Aquifer, a 174,000 square-mile formation that underlies eight states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. These states have depended on the Ogallala for the majority of agricultural, municipal, and industrial water supply since the early 20th century. However, irrigation has depleted the aquifer's water supply faster than natural recharge can replenish it. This exhibit encourages landowners to protect playas on their land.

Major funding for the exhibit has been provided by the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV), Amarillo Area Foundation, the Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation, and the Meadows Foundation. Over the course of seven years, the exhibit will tour the playa lakes states of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The exhibit first debuted in January 2003 and will continue its travels until the fall of 2008.

For more information on playas, phone Andy Burr, district conservationist, at 785-462-7671; Chris Berens or Matt Bain, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, 785-462-3367; or Debbie Slobe, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, 303-926-0777. Information may also be obtained by visiting the Playa Lakes Joint Venture website, www.pljv.org .