On Friday, KU Environs will host Swamp Fest, a fundraiser to support the Haskell Eco-Walk. The event, which includes food, a silent auction and three bands, will be held at the Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass. Doors open at 7 p.m. and bands will start playing around 9 p.m.
Bright pink ribbons and piles of limestone rock bound by chicken wire mark a rudimentary trail that students at Haskell Indian Nations University hope will one day morph into a stronger connection between the Baker and Haskell wetlands.
For the past year, members from Haskell’s Wetlands Preservation Organization have been clearing paths and manually hauling stones in an effort to build the Haskell Eco-Walk through a section of the wetlands north of 31st Street. The project has been aided by Kansas University students and community members.
“The original idea was to build an environmentally friendly walkway, a bridge both literally and figuratively, between Haskell students and other students at KU and Baker universities,” said Patrick Austin Freeland, a former president of the Wetlands Preservation Organization.
The hope is for the trail to create a path for students to travel between the school and Baker Wetlands and for those visiting the Baker Wetlands to have access to the Haskell Wetlands.
“Whenever the wetlands flood, there isn’t a good way to get back through there,” Freeland said.
Discussions for the eco-walk began in 2008. Since then, the organization was awarded a local $800 grant from the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund. That money enabled the group to design the routes and test footings that would allow a boardwalk to be built in the parts of the wetlands that routinely flood.
The group is applying for more grants and working with Westar Energy to use old telephone poles for the boardwalk, said Jason Hering, a KU senior who is part of KU Environs and coordinating with Haskell students on the project.
To finish the trail and boardwalk could take at least $3,000, Hering said.
At dusk one night this week, Mike Caron, a local wetlands advocate, wove his way through the path, which crossed over beaver dams and wooden logs. Caron, who regularly works on the trail, has spotted bobcats, herons and raccoons along the trails.
The eco-walk will be made up of three nature trails, totaling close to 2 miles. Part of the project includes a kid’s trail, which is bordered by a thick Osage orange hedgerow covered by moss. Another section of the trail connects to Haskell’s Medicine Wheel, an earthwork piece designed by artist Stan Herd.
Underlying the project is politics: A hope that more exposure to the wetlands will convince people to protest construction of a highway through a section of the Baker Wetlands.
Work will continue through the winter, Caron said, and he hopes enough money is raised to place decking on the boardwalk.