There is much controversy in Lawrence about whether the South Lawrence Trafficway should cross the Baker Wetlands on 32nd Street or go south of the Wakarusa River with two bridge crossings and about 1 1/2 miles increase in length and additional cost.
About 50 years ago, when there was no thought of a Kansas Highway 10 bypass and no Baker Wetlands, I drove onto this wetlands area (Section 18, T 13 S, R 20 E) and talked with a farmer about his grove of Osage Orange trees he was growing to harvest for fence posts and firewood. I was doing fieldwork for a publication titled "Geology and Groundwater Resources of Douglas County, Kansas," published in 1960 as State Geological Survey of Kansas, Bulletin 148. I mapped the geology of this area as the Newman Terrace which in the Wakarusa River Valley is characterized as a nearly flat, poorly drained surface, without old meander scars and in some areas may require artificial drainage for farming, but most of it is farmed without artificial drainage.
"The Soil Survey of Douglas County, Kansas," authored by H.P. Dickey and others, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, 1977, describes the soil developed on the Newman Terrace at the Baker Wetlands as the Wabash Silty Clay soil. It is a "deep, poorly drained to very poorly drained nearly level soil on bottom lands and terraces. Native vegetation is water tolerant prairie grasses and deciduous trees. In Douglas County about 85 percent of this soil is cultivated, the rest is used for pasture or left idle. Available water capacity and natural fertility are high. Permeability is very slow."
There is no disagreement between the geologists and the soils scientists about the character of the Baker Wetlands. Any swamps or marshes are manmade.
Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition defines wetlands as (1) swamps or marshes, (2) an area of land characterized by swamps, marshes, etc., that is preserved for wildlife.
Historically this area was purchased by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) between 1890 and 1902 and was being farmed at the time it was purchased. The BIA, in 1920, completed a large drainage project consisting of levees, drainage ditches, and tiling to lower the water table. The land was used for education and food production until 1934 when agriculture training programs were terminated by Haskell and the BIA, and the land was again leased to local farmers.
The BIA declared the land surplus in 1956 and transferred the land to the General Services Administration. In 1967, it was transferred to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Baker University requested the 573-acre property for education and research use and, in 1968, under the direction of Ivan L. Boyd, many of the drainage projects that had been installed were reversed and a variety of habitats - wet meadows, upland prairie vegetation, shrubby habitat, open water marshes and dense woodland were developed.
Today the levees, ditches and water diversions from the canal along the south side of 31st Street have artificially created bodies of open water and marshes and the large trees that were growing naturally in those areas have drowned. Ivan Boyd and his son Roger Boyd, the current manager of the Baker Wetlands, have done a remarkable job of creating open water marshes and wet meadows as well as retaining woodlands and prairie vegetation habitats for Baker University and other interested parties' educational and research uses.
Baker University would be compensated for the acreage taken for the SLT along 32nd Street by funds to create and maintain an additional 300 acres of new managed wetlands adjacent to the current property. Included would be a new educational center building with a small auditorium, classrooms, and exhibits. As proposed it would be a prime educational and research facility about wetlands for Baker University but also Kansas University and the K-12 schools in the area.
The 32rd Street route is the most direct and practical route and would eliminate the need for two new bridges across the Wakarusa River and the additional approximately 1 1/2 miles of road costs.
Currently the state of Kansas considers the fair cost of operating an automobile to be 44 1/2 cents per mile, and state employees who use their personal cars on official state business are compensated at that rate. In this day of increasing fuel and operating costs for cars and trucks, let's conserve resources and costs using the 32nd Street route for construction and long-term savings for the shorter driving route for all future users of the SLT.
I hope the city commissioners and the community will join together to support the 32nd Street route that has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Kansas Department of Transportation. I also hope the Sierra Club, of which I am a member, and the Audubon Club also will join and support Roger Boyd's 32nd Street preference.
We need the SLT completed as soon as possible, hopefully by the time the new four-lane U.S. Highway 59 is completed from Ottawa to Lawrence. Traffic volumes continue to grow!