Prairie Park Nature Center might have a little less nature if the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed along 32nd Street.
Marty Birrell, a nature interpretive supervisor at the center, told a meeting of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Advisory Board that a highway would cut off a natural pathway for animals between the Baker Wetlands and Prairie Park.
"We're actually well-endowed with a good cross-section of wildlife in our park, but it moves Â it's not static," Birrell said. "We will not see the numbers (of animals) that we have."
Still, members of the advisory board said Tuesday they supported the 32nd Street alignment.
"I'm cognizant of the Prairie Park concerns," said Richard Konzem, a member of the board. "It's not a deal-breaker."
The 71-acre park, just south of 27th and Harper streets, includes a 7-acre tract of native prairie, miles of hiking trails and Mary's Lake, a fishing pond.
The city took more than a decade to plan the park, acquiring the land in three separate parcels during the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when the city had few parks in southeast Lawrence. It spent about $950,000 turning the land into the nature preserve, complete with a 5,500 square foot education center, which opened in 1999.
The advisory board met Tuesday with Terry Flanagan, vice president of HNTB, a consulting firm hired by Kansas highway officials to develop the plans. Board members wanted to know how wetlands mitigation proposals for the 32nd Street route would affect the park system. A 42nd Street alignment is also under consideration, but state officials prefer 32nd Street for completion of the trafficway.
Flanagan said the mitigation plans included a 10,000-square-foot cultural and wetlands center, as well as hiking and bike trails to Prairie Park.
Birrell said those paths probably wouldn't be used by the animals Â deer, bobcats, foxes, turtles and much more Â that shuttle regularly between the park and the wetlands. They'll probably try but fail to cross the road, she said.
"The ultimate impact on our park will be reduced animal traffic," she said. "There will be more (vehicle traffic) kills."
It would also hurt the park's aesthetics to have a major road so close, Birrell said.
"The purpose of this (park) is to give people access to quiet areas," she said. "Bringing a roadway so close changes that."
Bill Penny, chairman of the advisory board, said some of the concerns would be answered by combining the city's nature center with the proposed wetlands center.
"It'd be better to have them together in some fashion," he said.
That won't solve all the problems, said Ernie Shaw, the city's supervisor of recreation and operations.
"One of the things you can't move," he said, "is that natural prairie."