With 41,000 acres of wetlands, Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend, Kansas is the largest inland marsh in the United States. The 20,000 acre center belongs to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and is administered as the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. The Nature Conservancy owns an adjacent 7,300 acres which is administered as the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve.
The heart of the Cheyenne Bottoms was acquired by the State in the 1940s & 50s, and dikes were built to create five large pools. The largest body of water is in the center of the Wildlife area and serves as a reservoir to manage water levels for water birds in the surrounding march.
Although white tailed deer and some waterfowl may be seen at Cheyenne Bottoms throughout the year, the majority of the birds at the wetlands change with the seasons. In the winter there are eagles and other species, with a larger bird population during mild winters. In the spring, over a half million ducks & geese, and thousands of other birds like sandhill and whopping cranes, pass through the bottoms.
In early summer (most of the photos on this page were taken in June) the marsh is visited by ten of thousands of shorebirds. In the fall, a quarter million or more birds stop at Cheyenne Bottoms on their journey south. Over the course of the year, more bird species are seen at Cheyenne Bottoms than anywhere else in Kansas. To date, at least 330 species have been observed at Cheyenne Bottoms.
Migrating ducks & cranes usually reach peak numbers in late March & early April; migrating shorebird numbers usually peak in late April to late May. The autumn migration has lower numbers and they are spread over a longer period of time. During periods of drought like 2006 and 2013 the wetlands dry out and there are far fewer birds present at the Bottoms.
In 2009, Fort Hays State University and the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks partnered to open the Kansas Wetlands Education Center. Located near one of the entrances to the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, the Education Center provides exhibits, a gift shop, education programs and a display of live fish, snakes, turtles and salamanders which are native to the surrounding area. The Education Center offers driving tours & checklists, in addition to guided van tours of the wetlands. The guided tours must be reserved in advance on weekdays or are available first come, first served at specific times on the weekends. Check the Kansas Wetlands Education Center website for details.
Less than 20 miles southeast, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge has an additional 22,000 acres of prairie grass, saltwater marshes, sand dunes, canals, dikes, and forest.
Bottoms Wildlife Area 24 hr current conditions - (620) 793-7730. Area
office - (620) 793-3066. Open to hunting.
L-4/13 copyright 2011 - 2013 by Keith Stokes