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Get to know the wetland bird sanctuary coming to Newton
Interim Executive Director Libby Albers speaks about the developing R. Michael Rhoades Wetland Park.
Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS) and their partners are bringing a bird sanctuary to Newton. This nonprofit organization works to conserve and restore Kansas watersheds, and they set their sights on a biodiverse hotspot next to Newton’s wastewater treatment plant.
Because the land is home to a vast population of local birds, the city-owned property has become a destination for birdwatchers. Safe access to these wetlands will provide all Newton visitors and residents an opportunity to experience Kansas wildlife in its natural habitat.
“We had the R. Michael Rhoades Foundation come forward about four years ago, wanting to do a project,” said project Interim Executive Director Libby Albers. “The city of Newton says, ‘well, we’ve got this area where these birders constantly want access to, but it’s restricted.’ … so we had a need and started bringing people together.”
The park has a short stretch of sidewalk, lined by informational kiosks and benches. It then extends into a boardwalk which takes visitors into the edge of the wetland.
Throughout development, project leaders were determined to respect the land and its future visitors. One of their goals was to promote ecological awareness through education. To ensure all visitors can participate in the educational elements, both braille and app-based dictation of all written information was prioritized.
KAWS has used solar-powered lighting which follows the sun’s cycle to avoid disturbing nocturnal wildlife. They are also collaborating with Dyck Arboretum to plant native prairie seeds and protect Kansas pollinators. Additionally, Newton Mural and Arts Project helped organize the addition of local art to the area.
“Looking at the great big backsides of these educational kiosks along the trail…it seems like a perfect location to put murals,” said Albers. Newton Mural and Arts Project sent out a callout across the state for fun, unique mural designs.
“We got back such a great variety of ways folks interpreted this desire for a whimsical look at these bird species, everything from a high schooler who did graphics on his computer to a tattoo artist,” added Albers. “It’s just amazing what they came up with.”
Albers also emphasized the importance of cooperation between KAWS, the R. Michael Rhoades Foundation, the city of Newton, and private donors in bringing the dream of a bird sanctuary to fruition.
“I would love to see the park open before the end of the year during the peak of bird migration so folks can really be overwhelmed by the thousands and thousands of birds coming in at that point,” said Albers. “You might have to bring an umbrella.”
To learn more about or donate to the R. Michael Rhoades Wetlands Park project, click here.