Site at Cheyenne Bottoms offers closeup view of lively wetlands
GREAT BEND -- The Kansas Wetlands Education Center has something to show you. The eagerly-anticipated interpretive center at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area will officially open for visitors during its grand opening at 3 p.m. Friday, April 24.

The new facility’s opening culminates several years of collaboration among a variety of partners. It also marks an important milestone in the rich history of Cheyenne Bottoms, providing the means to illuminate that history and enlighten visitors about the unique value of Cheyenne Bottoms, nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, and all Kansas wetlands.

Because of parking limitations at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, nearby Barton County Community College is providing a convenient shuttle bus service for the grand opening April 24. The public is welcome to follow signs on the campus to the North Kirkman Parking Lot, where there is ample parking space. Buses will leave at 2:15 and again at 2:30 p.m. for the short drive to the event. An additional trip will be added, if needed. The buses will also provide return trips to the campus.

Located 8 miles northeast of Great Bend on the southeast portion of Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center features the expansive Koch Wetlands Exhibit, underwritten by a $500,000 grant from the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation, and includes a 75-seat auditorium, classroom, offices, and gift shop. Affiliated with Fort Hays State University’s (FHSU) Sternberg Museum of Natural History, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center will be operated by FHSU. In cooperation with a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) educator stationed at the center, FHSU staff will conduct on-site and outreach educational programs.

The Koch Wetlands Exhibit inside the center offers an array of interpretive exhibits illustrating the unique natural resources of Cheyenne Bottoms and other wetlands. Exhibits provide an overview of the variety of Central Flyway wetlands, from the playa lakes of western Kansas to the flooded timber marshes of eastern Kansas.

Collaboration, planning, and development on the Kansas Wetlands Education Center began in 2003, after KDWP received a $2 million grant for facility construction from the Kansas Department of Transportation through funds from the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Under the direction of Dr. Ed Hammond, FHSU’s president, and Mike Hayden, KDWP secretary, a variety of partners joined forces to begin planning the facility. Representatives from local government entities -- including Barton County; Barton County Community College; and the cities of Great Bend, Hoisington, Claflin, and Ellinwood -- participated in early planning and discussion. The Kansas Department of Commerce, The Nature Conservancy, and the Kansas Wildscape Foundation lent support, as well. The Koch Foundation donated funding for development of displays in the center’s exhibit hall. Representatives from KDWP, FHSU, The Nature Conservancy, Great Bend, and Barton County appointed representatives to serve on planning teams to develop building and exhibit design recommendations. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius joined a variety of local and state citizens Oct. 27, 2006, for a groundbreaking ceremony.

Designed by Manhattan architects Bowman, Bowman and Novick, the 11,246-square-foot, crescent-shaped Kansas Wetlands Education Center features an expansive wall of glass looking out on the world-famous marsh. Chase Studios designed and built the exhibit, one of several nature center exhibits and displays they have built around the world.

The Koch Wetlands Exhibit includes a large wall panel with a map of Cheyenne Bottoms and its features and up-to-date information on seasonal wildlife activity on the marsh, as well as management activities underway. Other design elements include a topographic depiction of the marsh and its natural communities; welded steel, life-sized sculptures of birds that frequent the area; and a historical interpretation display that illustrates tools, weapons, gear and other accessories used by human visitors to Cheyenne Bottoms throughout history. In addition, three-dimensional interactive exhibits will illustrate the rich variety of plants and animals common in marshes.