The Wetland Explorer–Not Just For The Birds

This article appeared in the Great Bend Tribune on Sunday, October 21 as part of the monthly KWEC column, The Wetland Explorer.

One of the best parts about working at Cheyenne Bottoms is talking with visitors that stop here.  One thing staff at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center have noticed is that almost everyone has a story about Cheyenne Bottoms.  If you follow the news items posted in the Great Bend Tribune, you know that most stories about Cheyenne Bottoms logically include information about birds, bird-watching, hunting, and wildlife; that is what Cheyenne Bottoms is famous for.  However, some of the most interesting stories and memories we get to hear from visitors to the Kansas Wetlands Education Center concerning Cheyenne Bottoms have nothing to do with any of these wildlife-based subjects. 

For instance, many people have heard about Cheyenne Bottom’s history as a bombing range.  Cheyenne Bottoms was leased to the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1945-46 for use as a bombing and target range.  Many visitors talk about stories of seeing and hearing the bomber airplanes flying over Cheyenne Bottoms on their practice bombing runs.  And, some people even remember their families taking trips to the “overlook” north of the Bottoms to watch the planes.  Still today, it is not uncommon to find the .50 caliber shell casings within Cheyenne Bottoms that are relics that remind us of this piece of Cheyenne Bottoms history.

Other interesting (non-wildlife) Cheyenne Bottoms stories from history we hear from visitors include memories of ice skating on the frozen wetlands back in the day, cattle grazing the expansive open-range wetlands, and even oil exploration.  In fact, the first oil well in Barton County was drilled in the middle of Cheyenne Bottoms.

Even today, Cheyenne Bottoms and the local area have a huge tradition that extends beyond the stories of birds and other wildlife.  The Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway has been one attempt to try to capitalize on the rich heritage of the area surrounding Cheyenne Bottoms.  Now, don’t get me wrong, birds and wildlife provide a huge part of the force that attracts visitors to the Byway; however, travelers of the Byway also want to immerse themselves in the other historical and cultural activities of the local area.

On October 26, visitors and locals have the chance to participate in yet another one of these non-wildlife related uses of Cheyenne Bottoms: star gazing.  The Kansas Wetlands Education Center along with the Fort Hays State University Astronomy Club will host a Star Gazing event at the KWEC.  Cheyenne Bottoms and the KWEC offer a perfect star gazing venue with its wide open spaces and its distance from major light pollution sources.  Since opening, the KWEC has offered a number of star gazing outings.  These programs have been very popular, often with waiting lists of people wanting to participate.

For the October 26 event, participants will get the chance to view the moon, Jupiter, several star clusters, and nebula through a telescope.  Constellations will also be identified and stories will be told about some of them. FHSU Astronomy students and faculty will be on hand to help guide participants through their lesson in astronomy at Cheyenne Bottoms.  The program begins at 8:00pm.  Cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee will be served.  Participants should dress warm and bring a comfortable chair to enjoy the program.  The program is free to the public, although preregistering is recommended by calling the KWEC at 877-243-9268. 

Ultimately, we want you to experience Cheyenne Bottoms and make your own memories in whatever way you can, whether that is through wildlife watching, hunting, or even star gazing.  Get out there, you won’t regret it!

About Curtis Wolf

Curtis Wolf is the site manager at Ft. Hays State University's Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) at Cheyenne Bottoms. Curtis received a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and a Master of Science degree in Biology at FHSU, studying freshwater mussels. Before taking the job at the KWEC, Curtis was a biology instructor at Barton County Community College in Great Bend.

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