Award-winning display takes viewers "inside" the wetlands

Playa lakes of the southern Great Plains are not only essential to migrating waterfowl, they are critical to recharging underground water supplies in western Kansas. To promote awareness of playas and their importance to wildlife and humans, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) -- an alliance of public and private conservation groups formed to preserve playas throughout the Great Plains -- commissioned the Northwest Texas Museums Association to develop a Traveling Playa Lake Exhibit. The exhibit is on display at the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City through Dec. 17. Several hundred people -- including adult groups, families, and students -- have already toured the award-winning exhibit, now in its third year of traveling the Great Plains.

The exhibit 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 teeming with wildlife. 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.

Playas are shallow, seasonal wetlands found in abundance throughout the Great Plains of Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma. About 10,000 are located in western Kansas, where they are the primary source of recharge for the Ogallala Aquifer. They are also one of the most important wetland habitats for migrating birds in the Central Flyway. More than 140 species of birds use playa wetlands during spring migration. These birds include typical wetland species as well as a wide variety of upland birds.

The exhibit complements another effort to conserve playas: the Kansas alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS), the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), the Kansas offices of the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resource Conservation Service have teamed up with PLJV to help farmers enroll playa acreage into the federal Wetlands Restoration Non-Floodplain Initiative, also known as CP23a.

After Dec. 17, the Playa Lakes Traveling Exhibit will move to Colby, where it will be on display at the Prairie Museum of Art and History from Jan. 1 through March 1, 2006. For more information on this exhibit, phone the Lee Richardson Zoo at 620-276-1250.