The new Baker Wetlands Discovery Center


Along with the construction around creating the South Lawrence Trafficway, the Baker Wetlands have also been changing – restoration of more land, expansion, and new trails – spearheaded by Roger Boyd and his son Jon Boyd.

Many of the trails listed in our Kansas Trail Guide are still in place, but there’s been an expansion of several more miles of multi-use trail – see the map below.

IMG_2237Another addition is the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. The eco-friendly building was opened in October 2015, and it’s a large space with panoramic views out over the boardwalk.

The center has exhibits on the importance of the wetlands and how they
were restored and how they’re being taken care of now.

They have spotting scopes, an observatory tower, a research lab, and a classroom space.

Also featured are some family-friendly stations where kids can check out pelts and other animal artifacts. Plus there’s a little gift shop to commemorate your visit.

Around the building are impressive wildlife photos, many of them by the Boyd’s.

If you go:

1365 N. 1250 Road
Lawrence, KS 66046

Trails are open during daylight hours and dogs are allowed on leash.

Discovery Center is open 9am to noon and 1 to 3pm Monday to Saturday and 1 to 3pm on Sunday.

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Black-footed Ferret: Once dead and gone

At the Nature Conservancy‘s Smoky Valley Ranch in Logan County, you can explore the remote prairie. It’s a unique spot, not just for its Cretaceous formations, but for the wildlife that live here. It’s home to one of the state’s rarest mammals: the black-footed ferret.

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

One of the greatest threats to a prairie dog, other than people, is the black-footed ferret, who use the prairie dog as a food source. And as prairie dogs were much more common in the prairie before the 1900s, so were black-footed ferrets. They helped keep the populations in control, and helped create balance to the prairie ecosystem.

But by 1964, with the conversion of much of the native shortgrass prairie to cropland and with the prolonged and legally required (in 1901, a law mandated townships to forcibly eradicate prairie dogs) attacks on prairie dogs, the black-footed ferret was left with little to eat, began dying out, and was placed on the federal endangered species list.

In 1979, it was declared extinct. After the discovery of a small population in 1981 in Wyoming and after years of careful monitoring and after convincing some local landowners, in 2007, ten black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the Smoky Valley Ranch by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This rare, nocturnal mammal has made a place for itself again on the prairies of western Kansas.

It was thanks to ranchers in the county who volunteered their land as habitat for the nocturnal creatures and the Nature Conservancy land, and the released ferrets have been raising wildborn kits. And in 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service released more ferrets in Logan County to help “jumpstart” the population.

First ferret released back into Kansas. Photo by Dan Mulhern/USFWS

First ferret released back into Kansas. Photo by Dan Mulhern/USFWS