As the chilly October air blew colorful leaves into the swampy waters of the Wakarusa Wetlands, a handful of environmental activists huddled Saturday afternoon at the Baker Wetlands entrance on 31st Street for “Occupy the Wakarusa Wetlands.”
After the September announcement that the South Lawrence Trafficway construction would begin this fall, Wetlands advocates have been torn. Since the 1990s, many have fought against the project to connect the South Lawrence Trafficway from Iowa Street to Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.
But this weekend wasn’t about protesting. Occupy organizer Brian Sultana said the meeting was called to encourage community members to come out to the area to bridge the common disconnect from Wetlands’ importance.
“Hearing about the wetlands and being here are two different things,” Sultana said. “Some people say, ‘big deal, it’s a swamp,’ but being here, you see the natural ecology and the different characteristics of the wildlife. It's beautiful.”
Though they hate to admit it, there isn't much wetlands advocates can do to stop the construction. Occupy attendee and longtime wetlands preservation activist Mike Caren said the only thing left to do is to admire the region while it’s here and preserve the memories of times past.
“If the story behind the wetlands is lost,” Caren said, “the highway has won.”
For Lawrence resident Jeanette Kekahbah, the wetlands are filled with memories: snowball fights on the boardwalk, strolling the walking path with her children and quiet moments watching wildlife at peace.
Kekahbah said the news that the construction would officially begin stung deeply.
“It hurts. It feels like this hole inside me and it’s one of those bad news things you can’t accept,” Kekahbah said. “All we can do to help is to preserve the memories of this place.”