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Wetlands - Or Not?



I do not claim to be an expert regarding wetlands; in particular the Haskell-Baker wetlands. However, I do claim the qualification of being able to make observations. With that said, should someone point out a factual error (or an additional noteworthy fact), this blog will be updated accordingly. Should you have a different opinion or political belief regarding the wetlands - feel free to express yourself in the comments section.

The Haskell-Baker wetlands end up the center of many controversies. The wetlands have delayed the South Lawrence Trafficway and given rise to the great Beaver Protests of 2010. Defenders of the wetlands proclaim that they are restoring the land. With the recent Beaver Protests it might be possible that the land is being restored to its rightful owners: the beavers. Regardless of the reason, the protectors of the wetlands believe that the restoration of an area - an area that was not wetland as far back as 1937 - should take precedence over improving the day to day activities of man.

The Haskell-Baker Wetlands consist of 640 acres; of which, 573 are controlled by Baker University, 27 by Haskell University, 20 by Kansas University, and the final 20 by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. This acreage is primarily located between Haskel Avenue and Louisiana Streets with 31st Street for a north border and the Wakarusa River for its southern border. There are also mitigation areas just west of Louisiana Street.

The following aerial photographs show the current wetlands, and in reverse order, a time prior to the building of the artificial berm that is 31st Street. These aerials span a time period of over 70 years, with the last aerial photograph from 1937.


This is the current Google satellite photograph of the wetlands.



The 1976 aerial photograph is the oldest one showing 31st street; the street markers were left off of this view to show the construction of 31st street. All of the older aerials predate the construction of 31st street.


The plans for 31st street were under way by 1966; the aerial has a hand-drawn line marking the future location of the street. However, there is no evidence of natural wetlands. Yet, in 1969, the wetlands were declared a National Natural Landmark.


The wetlands appear to have a well defined farm field grid in the 1954 photographs. There may be evidence of an irrigation system in the southwest field.


The aerial photographs taken in 1941 have much of the Haskell-Baker wetlands labeled as "pasture".


The final aerial is from 1937. The "wetlands" do not appear to exist; rather, there are what appears to be well defined farm fields.

The restoration of an area that, at best, over 70 years ago was a combination of pasture, farm land, and a small swamp, should not take precedence over the improvement of services provided to citizens. Should the apologists of the wetlands fail to work with officials in completing the South Lawrence Trafficway, then it may be time to condemn the mosquito pit, apply eminent domain, and proceed with construction of the highway.

UPDATE - June 16, 2010

Users have made mention, and provided this picture, of the "old dump" located in the wetlands. It makes for an interesting side bar. It appears that the dump was for the use of Haskell University. The aerial from 1937 shows the dump site was already quite large indicating years of use. Those students attending Haskell University prior to the man-made wetlands must have had a different view of the historical value of the land.

UPDATE - June 18, 2010

An online user, DougCounty, has provided the following facts, which are included here as balance and were taken from the web page, "History of the Baker Wetlands." DougCounty's full comment can be found here.

  • 1922: drainage tiles began to be installed as part of the Haskell Agriculture program. In the following decade or so, the wetlands were drained and plowed up for agricultural use: planting pastures and some cropland.
  • 1934: Haskell got out of the agriculture business and leased the land to area farmers to continue the farming
  • 1968: Baker acquires the acreage, Ivan Boyd works with E Raymond Hall of KU to begin preserving remaining native prairie tracts.
  • 1982: Ivan Boyd dies and his son, Roger begins to manage the land and begins to explore with US Parks and Wildlife the possibility of larger scale restoration efforts. The efforts result in removing the drainage tiles, which allows large scale restoration efforts to proceed, creating the wetlands we know today.
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Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 7 months ago

For just about sure, many of the tragic accidents that have occurred on 23rd Street could have been avoided if the South Lawrence Trafficway had been completed a few years ago. Some were fatal. At least a few involved drivers and semi trucks from out of town who never wanted to drive through Lawrence in the first place, but to get to or from K-10, they had no choice.

It appears to me that you are trying to change opinions by the use of facts. That approach simply does not work very often. History books almost never change firmly held opinions.

My opinion is, couldn't some land swap be done that would leave everyone at least half way happy?

gccs14r 4 years, 7 months ago

Too bad you don't have any photos from prior to 1900. Having photos back only as far as 1937 is wonderfully convenient for the pavers.

gccs14r 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh, photography had been around for decades by then, as had observation balloons. The technology was there, but apparently no one bothered to take a photo.

Scott Drummond 4 years, 7 months ago

A shame for what and who? The wildlife that enjoys the life giving opportunity the area provides, or the for the humans who want to pollute the world travelling from point A to point B along this particular parcel of land?

whatadrag 4 years, 7 months ago

Scott, unfortunately for you, if the SLT were placed here, vehicles using it instead of going through town would pollute less.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 7 months ago

DIST! what were you thinking man? posting a blog like this with such comments, actual facts, ... even including actuall photographs.

clearly you sir are a racist bigot oppressor of the injuns!

and clearly you are antibeaver, too.

now stop it, stop it I say!

ashamedofyou 4 years, 7 months ago

Right now I wish there was a "like button" like facebook has. This comment made me smile a lot! :)

workinghard 4 years, 7 months ago

If you're restoring the land back shouldn't you take out that major natural gas main line that runs through it? Baldwin doesn't need any natural gas anyway.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

So I assume making passages under the road to prevent roadkill would be impractical since they would get water in them, could some sort of barrier be put up to prevent the animals from getting on the road and being killed?

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Haskell Baker Wetlands History

  1. Isn't this really just a recent "man-made" wetland?

Despite efforts of highway proponents to characterize the wetland as a recent creation of Baker University biologists, the truth is that this place is the surviving remnant of a very ancient prairie wetland.

The Wakarusa (a.k.a. Haskell-Baker) Wetland is a remnant of the Wakarusa Bottoms, an area of approximately 18,000 acres of prairie wetland formed by the retreat of the first glacial epoch to reach into Kansas, between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago.

For at least 10,000 years, this wetland was a special gathering place for the human inhabitants of this region.

A substantial part of the wetland was briefly transformed into very marginal farmland, which flooded regularly. An ineffective dike and tile drainage system was finally completed by 1920. Haskell officials gave up on this expensive futile effort to tame the swamp about a decade later, during the dust bowl and depression era.

Some land continued to be leased for stock grazing and haying. Some crops were again planted after Clinton Dam was constructed in the 1970s and before Baker's restoration of the wetland got fully under way.

For an excellent account of wetland drainage efforts in this region, and the importance of wetlands in Native American cultures, see Wetlands of the American Midwest: A Historical Geography of Changing Attitudes, by Hugh Prince, University of Chicago, 1997.

The primary "Haskell farm" was not in the wetland, but located much nearer the dorms and classrooms. The farm is important for its part in the child labor exploitation aspects of Haskell's early history.

This wetland, on the other hand, is crucial to the larger story of how Indian students at the boarding schools resisted authorities determined to eradicate their cultures and languages.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, I posted this link already, why do you feel it is necessary to try to force people to read it, shove it in their face? If they wanted to read it, it was already there.

remember_username 4 years, 7 months ago

What is this a competition? No real harm in repeating what needs to be said don't you think?

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Won't this wetland be even better after the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) completes its "mitigation"?

KDOT's mitigation package is a perfect example of "greenwashing". The acreage would indeed increase, but there are serious doubts that the newly added land would ever have the biological diversity of the wetland impacted by road building. With the best of luck it would not establish itself until long after traffic through the immediate area increased to levels that would severely diminish the quality of this place as a habitat for wetland wildlife.

Oxford English Dictionary Definition: green*wash: (n) Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing (n). Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash.

CorpWatch definition: green*wash: (gr~en-w^osh) -washers, -washing, -washed 1.) The phenomenon of socially and environmentally destructive corporations attempting to preserve and expand their markets by posing as friends of the environment and leaders in the struggle to eradicate poverty. 2) Environmental whitewash. 3) Hogwash.

The so-called "gem" of a wetland that KDOT promises to finance would have to contend with eight or ten lanes of traffic by the time it has any chance of establishing itself at a level vaguely comparable to what exists today. Not one biologist spoke in favor of this plan at the Corps of Engineers public hearing. The half dozen professionals trained and experienced with wetland ecology who testified all opposed routing the SLT through the wetland. While KDOT says it would finance a new visitor's center to explain the history of the wetlands, they failed to mention that there is already an under-funded nature center at Prairie Park that should be expanded to serve this purpose. Ironically, by routing the SLT through the wetlands KDOT would erect a physical barrier that essentially kills Prairie Park Nature Center. It would soon atrophy into just another biologically impoverished "green space".

Without the trafficway eviscerating the area there is a wonderful opportunity to connect both Naismith Park and Prairie Park to Wakarusa (Haskell-Baker) Wetland. These integrated parks would form a unique biological preserve in the heart of the city as it is likely to exist in the near future. More importantly, a nationally significant historical site would be saved from oblivion. By working with those landowners south of the Wakarusa who are serious about conserving the beautiful mixed habitats they possess, the city and state could establish conservation easements that insure wildlife migration routes in and out of the area

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, I posted this link already, why do you feel it is necessary to try to force people to read it, shove it in their face? If they wanted to read it, it was already there.

remember_username 4 years, 7 months ago

Some will investigate the link and some won't so the bases are covered.

Kyle Reed 4 years, 7 months ago

Lol, if you want people to read it don't rely on merrills posting to accomplish that. I'd hazard a guess that anybody that reads these comment sections with any frequency ignores everything he posts as he usually posts the same things over and over and over.

been_there 4 years, 7 months ago

exactly, so tell us remember_username, do you read merrill's comments or just scroll past them like everyone else?

kcwarpony 4 years, 7 months ago

It was the white BIA administration at Haskell in the early years who turned the area into a dump, not Haskell students. And not just Haskell used the dump.

“Southern Dump Site: In 1968 there was an old broken down bulldozer and steam shovel sitting in the field at the southern end of the central road. In addition there was a large extent of refuse that had been dumped on both sides of the river levee. This trash extended approximately 200+ feet north of the levee. The road to this site was well traveled and unsecured. It had become a dump for local residences as well as Haskell and required large gates and a period of transition before trash was no longer left along the road or the entrance gate. Even after 35th street had been closed in 1971, people continued to periodically dump their trash at the east gate. On the river side of the levee there were large amounts of concrete and brick debris for about 130 yards to the east and about 70 yards to the west.”

4(f) Evaluation, Appendix, page 6

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Don't we need the South Lawrence Trafficway to make 23rd Street safer and to end the traffic nightmare there?

Even KDOT's own engineers and federal highway officials have conceded that the South Lawrence Trafficway will have no lasting effect on the 23rd Street traffic mess. That congested commercial corridor was created by poor planning decades ago. Highways generate more traffic, not less. Neither 23rd Street nor the SLT will be made any safer if the wetland is paved over.

As early as 1995 KDOT's own engineers admitted at a public hearing that any impact on 23rd Street trafficway would be extremely short lived. The consensus seems to be that congestion there would be back to the "norm" in no more than 18 months. The problems on 23rd have to do with myopic decisions that let businesses locate far too close to the curb. Blindly developer-friendly zoning of the time allowed too many curb cuts.

Alleviating congestion along that corridor would require a long slow process of having new businesses build back from the existing road, and eliminating many curb cuts. There are no indications anyone is really interested in facing the political challenges or horrendous costs of resolving that mess.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Merrill, I posted this link already, why do you feel it is necessary to try to force people to read it, shove it in their face? If they wanted to read it, it was already there. See, I can copy and paste too.

remember_username 4 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps if you would have summarized what points you wanted others to consider from the Baker Wetlands website Merrill wouldn't have felt it necessary to add his or her voice to yours.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Merrill's comment seems to have thrown the LJW website into an alternate reality, this is weird. How do we get it back to the right dimension?

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Wonder what new "improvements" the LJW is making now? I assume that is what is happening.

Mike Ford 4 years, 7 months ago

for the 9,999th time, the lowlands of the Kansas and Wakarusa River Valleys were created at least 12,000 years ago after the glaciers which created the upwellings south of Vinland melted. How stupid are Kansans about geology, archaeology, and biology?

Indian peoples were here. The ancestors of the Wichita, Pawnee, and Arikara Caddoan peoples were here. The Dhegian Siouan Kaw and Osage peoples were here until treaties in 1825. The Shawnee people were here lending their names to Blue Jacket Crossing at the southwest part of the wetlands where the Oregon Trail went north across the wetlands.

Between 1883 and 1903, four or five purchases of land were made for the Haskell campus with federal tribal monies from the tribal treasury accounts derived from payment for land theft across this country. Prior to Clinton Lake the Wakarusa flooded constantly. WHITE BIA officials ordered Indian students to put down tiles to aid in water drainage. The farming program was transferred to the Chilocco Indian School in 1934. The uninformed pictures posted by this writer show the damage done through the drainage of the wetlands prior to the 1937 picture. It's easy to deceive people when you don't tell the whole story; Republicans and Tealicans do it all of the time. And the uninformed public eats it up.

I've driven out along the Osage-Douglas County line where the Wakarusa looks like northern Louisiana where I grew up. The HASKELL wetlands look like the area in southwest Louisiana where I grew up. It's funny how I can drive south of Trading Post, Kansas, and see a pool along the east side of U.S. 69 that has been so dry in the summer and fall that I saw hay being baled there. I've also seen the same pool lapping at the side of the highway in December south of the Marais Des Cygne River on the way to Pittsburg, Kansas. People there acknowledge the different seasons of wetlands there. I've read about the wet and dry seasons in the Everglades and Atchafalaya Basin. Are people here so drunk with denial and lack of education that they want a road at any cost the same way the GOP wants oil drilling at the cost of my Louisiana and the Houma people that live near the water? Are the people of Trading Post and Pleasonton Kansas smarter than the people here?

independant1 4 years, 7 months ago

Nobody wants his cause near as bad as he wants to talk about his cause. (Will Rogers)

Mike Ford 4 years, 7 months ago

chucklehead, I'd give up talking about this cause if the stupidity and the desire to destroy areas went away. I refute half truths whenever I have to. I don't think Will Rogers would've been for the destruction of natural areas in the name of paving progress? I don't think it's appropriate for Will Rogers to be quoted by Tea Party or Republican people when they edit out only the parts they can use and leave the whole story behind.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Let's look at it this way. The amount of water that migrates to this area does so because it is one of the lowest points in Douglas County = wetlands.

This wetlands saves Douglas County taxpayers millions upon millions big time big government tax dollars due to its' natural flood control ability. Man made flood control throughout Lawrence has yet to conquer mother natures water. This is evident in many many places.

It seems anything but fiscally conservative or fiscally responsible to wipe out natural flood control in favor of pork barrel funding for our local real estate/building industry.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. They also are a source of substantial biodiversity in supporting numerous species from all of the major groups of organisms - from microbes to mammals.

Physical and chemical features such as climate, topography (landscape shape), geology, nutrients, and hydrology (the quantity and movement of water) help to determine the plants and animals that inhabit various wetlands.

Economic Benefits of Wetland Resources

We use many natural products from wetlands, including mammals and birds, fish and shellfish, and timber. For example, wetlands supporting timber totals about 55 million acres, two-thirds of which occurs east of the Rocky Mountains. Similarly, various plants like blueberries, cranberries, mints, and wild rice, are produced in wetlands. We also derive medicines from wetland soils and plants.

Preserving and restoring wetlands, together with other water retention, can often provide the level of flood protection otherwise provided by expensive dredging operations and levees. The preservation of wetlands also results in many other benefits to society, such as the protection of ecologically significant fish and wildlife habitat.

A good example of this is the Mississippi River's bottomland hardwood-riparian wetlands, which once stored at least 60 days of floodwater and represented significant fish and wildlife habitat. They now store only 12 days of floodwater because most have been filled, leveed, or drained, with substantial loss of fish and wildlife habitat.

Another good example is Minnesota, where the cost of replacing the natural flood control function of 5000 acres of drained wetlands was found to be $1.5 million annually.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

Improving Water Quality and Hydrology

Wetlands are valuable to us because they greatly influence the flow and quality of water. They help improve water quality, including that of drinking water, by intercepting surface runoff and removing or retaining inorganic nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing suspended sediments before they reach open water.

For example, as the runoff water passes through wetlands, they retain or process excess nitrogen and phosphorus, decompose organic pollutants, and trap suspended sediments that would otherwise clog waterways and affect fish and amphibian egg development.

In performing this filtering function, wetlands save us a great deal of money.

Fish and wildlife use wetlands to varying degrees depending upon the species involved. Some live only in wetlands for their entire lives; others require wetland habitat for at least part of their life cycle; still others use wetlands much less frequently, generally for feeding.

In other words, for many species wetlands are primary habitats, meaning that these species depend on them for survival; for others, wetlands provide important seasonal habitats, where food, water, and cover are plentiful.

Ken Lassman 4 years, 7 months ago


I'm taking your promise at face value and am making a request to add the following facts to your blog. According to the official Baker Wetlands website: the following facts on the farming of the wetlands were provided:

1922: drainage tiles began to be installed as part of the Haskell Agriculture program. In the following decade or so, the wetlands were drained and plowed up for agricultural use: planting pastures and some cropland. 1934: Haskell got out of the agriculture business and leased the land to area farmers to continue the farming 1968: Baker acquires the acreage, Ivan Boyd works with E Raymond Hall of KU to begin preserving remaining native prairie tracts. 1982: Ivan Boyd dies and his son, Roger begins to manage the land and begins to explore with US Parks and Wildlife the possibility of larger scale restoration efforts. The efforts result in removing the drainage tiles, which allows large scale restoration efforts to proceed, creating the wetlands we know today.

So to put all of this in perspective: 1982 to present: 28 years of large scale restoration efforts in 573 acre tract known as the Haskell Baker wetlands 1922 to 1982: agricultural land use dominates, made possible by drainage tile project : 60 years Preceded by approximately 7 or 8 thousand years of being part of the Wakarusa wetlands, after the end of the most recent ice age. This post-pleistocene era was preceded by a number of other ice ages, going back to the glacial period some 600,000 years ago, which created the wide Wakarusa valley when glaciers reached into Kansas and then melted, flooding and expanding the size of the Wakarusa valley considerably. Most likely the wetlands have existed ever since, with the 573 acre remnant a mere fraction of the much larger total of wetlands that used to be here, perhaps 13-17,000 acres in extent.

Now we can talk about what the facts are, free of bias, no? Perhaps a discussion of the ecological and economic value of a wetlands in terms of water purification and filtration, habitat and biodiversity creation, migratory species support, and so on?

Ken Lassman 4 years, 6 months ago

Thanks so much! It would have been nice to include the paragraph starting with "Preceded by approximately 7 or 8 thousand years...." but I appreciate your efforts at trying to inform and not just inflame like so many folks seem to think is the purpose of these posts.

Bob-RJ Burkhart 4 years, 2 months ago

As a US National Park Service Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area planning partner, KVHAdventuring helps empower fully informed Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS) when evaluating land use alternatives. Redacted remarks above are now posted here:

Richard Heckler 4 years, 7 months ago

If the state would spend $300,000,000 million on commuter train service WE taxpayers would get a ton more for OUR big government tax dollars. This $300,000,000 million would service Topeka,Lawrence and JOCO metro area residents.

Plus it might reduce highway accidents due to fewer cars on the road.

Plus it would definitely reduce air pollution and that brown cloud that hovers over Lawrence from time to time.

Cars are expensive budget items at both the state and local levels.

Mike Ford 4 years, 7 months ago

it's nice to see that facts drown out idiocy.

independant1 4 years, 7 months ago

We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others. (Will Rogers)

Mike Ford 4 years, 7 months ago

the insanity in this equasion lies in the fact that the majority population has had it's way for so long that it conveiniently ignores it's own appropriation of land by theft and acts like the victim when it's prevented from paving any more natural area out of existence. It's like having a person say they're starving on their fifth trip to the buffet because they're cut off. Ask the Kaw and Shawnee peoples who the victims of too much traffic are? Were they allowed to complain as more and more cholera and smallpox carriers came out on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails in the 1830's to find "Open land". NO! The Kaw people no longer have trust lands in the state named after them and the Loyal Shawnees were citizen Cherokees from 1867 to 2000. Having driven hundreds of thousands of miles working in Lawrence for thirteen years I really don't see what the complaint of traffic is about.

independant1 4 years, 7 months ago

You got to sorter give and take in this old world. (Will Rogers)

BigPrune 4 years, 7 months ago

I want Kansas to return to its natural ancient state of being an ocean.

Liberty275 4 years, 7 months ago

Are you sure you don't just want to return to the towering glaciers hovering over Lawrence? When it was ocean our ancestors were being oppressed by gigantic sharks.

Very brilliant point though. Everyone has a point in history they can point to and claim victimhood.

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