McPherson Valley Wetlands

Created by: Lacey Dreyer, Amy Uttinger, Kyle Morris

This webpage was created to fulfill the requirements for ES/EB 341, Wetland Environments (Spring, 2005)
in the Earth Science Department at Emporia State University.




All Images in this webpage were provided by Brent Theede unless otherwise noted.
Thanks to Brent for the information and images.

Table of Contents

Introduction
From Wetlands to Farmlands
Geography
From Farmlands to Wetlands
Geologic History
Future of McPherson Valley Wetlands


Introduction

The McPherson Valley Wetlands differ from most other wetlands by way of area coverage.  Wetlands such as Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira encompass one region that is under water most of the time.  The McPherson Valley Wetlands however, are a series of small wetlands that are part of a chain covering a broad distance.  These wetlands were once just as important to migrating water fowl and other wildlife as the aforementioned wetlands are now, but years of digging and draining for farmland have transformed the habitat.  From the late 1800s to the recent 1980s, the McPherson Valley Wetlands were non-existent and acres of farmland replaced it, but beginning in 1987 the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the Nature Conservancy, and many other public and private partners began the restoration which continues today.

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Geography

A few miles west of the city of McPherson, in McPherson County, Kansas lies a series of small wetlands know as the McPherson Valley Wetlands.
 
 

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Geologic History

Two major geologic events helped to form the McPherson Valley Wetlands.  The first occurring during the later part of the Permian Period some 250 million years ago, when much of Kansas was covered by many small ancient seas with fluctuating water levels.  When the seas dried up they left behind a thick layer of salt.  This salt bed became buried over time by other sediments and was not discovered until millions of years later (KGS, 1996).

The second geologic event happened during the Pleistocene Epoch.  The climate of North America was fluctuating from cold to mild resulting in the formation and melting of glaciers.  Although glaciers did not extend into McPherson county, glacier melt water from the northwest entered the Smoky Hill River making it flow at a higher level than it does today (KGS, 2005).  Subsequently, streams flowing southward off the Smoky Hill from present-day Lindsborg, Kansas carved the lowlands and chain of lakes in McPherson county all the way to Wichita, in Sedgwick county, Kansas.  The stream was eventually cut off and the lakes were filled with silt, but are still easily recharged with rainfall (Theede, 2005).

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From Wetlands to Farmlands

The McPherson Valley Wetlands began with a vast area of natural potholes starting five miles northwest of McPherson and extending 43 miles southeast to Valley Center, Kansas.  "Historically, McPherson Valley contained 52 shallow marshes that were 10 to 500 acres in size and provided more than 9,000 surface acres of water (Moran, 2004)."  This area was an important area for migrating waterfowl, including more than 112 species of birds like the whooping crane, white-faced ibis, peregrine falcon and the snowy plover (eWetlands.net, 2001).  It became a great place for waterfowl market hunters in the mid 1800s (Theede, 2005).

Because farming was the main way of life in this area, the wetlands were steadily drained for agricultural purposes and now only 3,470 acres of natural wetland habitat remains (Theede, 2005).


This image was taken in 1911 during the construction of the
Blaze Fork Ditch west of McPherson.

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From Farmlands to Wetlands

Wetland areas are not ideal for farming and so many farmers lost money trying to grow a variety of crops.  Many were eager and willing to sell their land to anyone who would by it.  In 1989, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) began buying and restoring much of the former McPherson Valley Wetlands (Mason, 2003).  The Big Basin's 630 acres of marsh habitat was the first area to be completely restored and was done by the summer of 2000.  A few other recent developments are Kubin Marsh adding about 65 acres, and Chain of Lakes with about 30 acres.  Another huge leap was with the restoration of the Farland Marsh, it was done during the summer of 2003.  Southwest College also recently bought about 60 acres for restoration (Theede, 2005).  The funding for most of the restoration has come in five phases of grants given by the North American Wetland Conservation Council (NAWCC).
 
 

Phase I:
1,100 acres purchased, 300 acres restored
Phase II:
333 acres purchased and development of some marshes including Big Basin
Phase III:
560 acres purchased, including provisions to develop another 686 acres in Big Basin
Phase IV:
1,477 acres purchased and 400 acres restored
Phase V:
300 acres purchased and 695 acres restored

Total funding by the NAWCC grants I-V comes to a figure of approximately $10,000,000 (Theede, 2005).  Another $200,000 was donated for Phase V by the Archer Daniels Midland Company (Peterson, 2004).

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Future of McPherson Valley Wetlands

Through generous grants and donations, the KDWP in part with Ducks Unlimited, has been able to buy and restore much of the once lost McPherson Valley Wetlands.  The funds are being used to restore and keep up the levees, water transfer canals, and pumps that are capable of pumping 16,000 gallons a minute.  Still, much needs to be done to maintain and improve and certain criteria and goals have been set such as (Peterson, 2004):

All of this work has already shown vast improvements on various wildlife in the area and the amount of visitors coming each year.  Over 200 bird species have been documented, including the white-faced ibis, whistling swans, snowy plovers, greater prairie chickens, prairie falcons, whooping cranes, mallards, pintails, various geese and the bald eagle.  Hunting is allowed, but all hunters must obtain a permit each day which can be purchased in any of the parking lots around the wetland (Theede, 2004).

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Webpage created by Lacey Dreyer on April 29, 2005.
Last Updated: May 3, 2005
Copyright 2005 © Lacey Dreyer.  All rights reserved.