Wetland park project moving forward behind the scenes

Chad Frey
The Kansan

It may not appear like there is anything going on at a wetlands near Southwest 14th and Sand Creek — but there is plenty happening. A place that has become a hotspot for birdwatchers will become a park over the course of the next few years — a project approved by the city last year that will be privately funded. 

Members of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams and staff of Dyck Arboretum hosted a seed collection at Kauffman Museum in North Newton at 6 p.m. Sept. 1. Dubbed a "Wetland Wednesday," similar nights are scheduled for Sept.  22 and 29. Seeds collected will be used to create a wetlands park in Newton.

"If someone would drive by it would not look like anything is happening," said Libby Albers with the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams.

But there has been plenty going on. Fundraising has been done — The R. Michael Rhoades Foundation has stepped up to be a major funding partner with the seed money of $100,000 for the facility. The project is expected to cost about $350,000, with the bulk of those costs being paid from private funds. The city will help with in-kind maintenance staff and equipment assistance, tree removal and coordination of regulatory agencies.

And more behind-the-scenes work has been happing as well. Once grant year funding was completed, Ducks Unlimited  began engineering designs for the park. The plan is a series of boardwalks and fencing that will keep humans out of ponds that can contain wastewater runoff, while still being able to watch the birds.  

"We will be coordinating that with the city of Newton to make sure everything lines up," Albers said. "There is a lot of drawing and engineering for both the wetland and access. .... You probably won't see construction or earth move on the site until this fall. There are a lot of permits that have to be put in place to make sure we are doing things correctly."

There are some clues as to what the park will look like available — it is known there will be boardwalks. And, this week, volunteers began collecting seed for native plants to be sewn at the site.  

Members of the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams and staff of Dyck Arboretum hosted a seed collection at Kauffman Museum in North Newton at 6 p.m. Sept. 1. Dubbed a "Wetland Wednesday," similar nights are scheduled for Sept.  22 and 29.

"They have given us special permission to collect some seed there for native grasses and plants to get seed to put in the new wetlands park," Albers said.  "Seeds are only available at at a certain of year, which is why we are doing this now. ... This is an opportunity for the community to get involved."

The part is slate for  a kind of secret spot where bird-watchers have been going to see unique species in Newton. They have documented more than 147 bird species, including five species of geese, 17 species of ducks, six herons, 12 hawks/falcons (including Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon), and 14 species of shorebirds that make use of the pond birdwatchers have been trying to get too — and wanting better access to.

Currently bird watchers have limited access — the mostly stand on public streets and roads around the site and peer in with binoculars. 

Access could come in the form of a parking lot, fencing around the ponds, observation decks and boardwalks to those decks.

The starting plan is to construct boardwalks over the course of two years to allow access for birders to the site. Those boardwalks would be designed to keep people out of, or from touching, water in a pond at the site that can be contaminated by raw sewage. An additional freshwater pond is also possible.

“Because during periods of high flows at the wastewater treatment plant this receives raw sewage, we can’t allow the public to have access to this wetland,” said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city of Newton.

The pond is man-made, created as part of the Sand Creek Bank Stabilization project in 2009.