Field day celebrates wetlands’ resources

The unfamiliar bugs and “creepy crawlies” in the Baker Wetlands initially scared Michelle Denetsosie when she moved here from Tucson, Ariz.

Now, the Kansas University graduate student visits the wetlands a couple of times a month to escape her hectic academic schedule.

lawrence resident Christena Morgan, 14, left, paddles her mother ,Christy Morgan, and sister, Hailey Morgan, 10, down one of the Baker Wetlands' canals under the guidance of Baker University senior Todd Hitchcock, a biology major from Larned. Baker University played host to its 11th annual Wetlands Field Day Sunday afternoon. The event included activities and displays to teach visitors about the natural area.

“It’s very renewing for me,” Denetsosie said. “When I come out here, it just makes me feel at one with everything.”

On Sunday, she joined about 450 other people at the 11th annual Baker Wetlands Field Day to get a closer look at the bugs, plants and animals that make up the wetlands.

“We decided that a lot of people didn’t really appreciate wetlands they thought it was mud, mosquitoes and nasty stuff,” said Roger Boyd, a biology professor at Baker University. “The intent is to tell people why wetlands are important to protect, whether they’re the Baker Wetlands or any other wetlands in the United States.”

Through 17 stations staffed by Baker University and Free State High School students, visitors found it’s a habitat for salamanders, snakes, turtles, waterfowl and songbirds; cattails, sedges and grasses; as well as invertebrates such as mosquito larvae.

Those larvae, which people could view up close Sunday under a microscope at the biology station, also sustain a healthy population of mosquito fish, Boyd said.

“There’s usually fewer mosquitoes here than in my back yard,” he said.

Other stations included canoe trips in a canal, bird identification, demonstration of equipment for prairie burns and a display of amphibians and reptiles in tanks and cages, and snakes that people could touch and wrap around their necks.

Rose Rylco, a junior at Free State and member of the school’s biology club, helped show children and families a snapping turtle, salamanders, a black rat snake and woodhouses’s toad.

“The goal is to get them less scared of reptiles,” she said.

Rose Garrett, Lawrence, and her daughter Alexandria, 8, visited the wetlands for the first time Sunday.

“I’ve always been curious to know what’s back in here,” Garrett said. “It’s pretty neat.”

Alexandria, a second-grader at Pinckney School, said she enjoyed looking at the snakes and animal pelts, and taking her first canoe ride.

“It was pretty fun, but it scared me because it was tilting a little bit,” she said.

Although the Baker Wetlands is usually associated with talk of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the field day is meant to be educational. Boyd said Baker supports a proposed 32nd Street alignment for the SLT that also includes a nature center.

“The intent is not to be political,” Boyd said. “We want to show people all the neat things that live out here.”