Great Plains Nature Center

Nestled in the heart of the city, Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, Kan., is an oasis
of natural wetlands, prairie and woodland habitats. To view a slideshow, click here


Great Plains Nature Center opened in Wichita, Kan., in 2000 as an outlet for people to investigate, understand, and develop an appreciation for wildlife and the environment, while promoting sound stewardship of natural resources.

Open free to the public, the center hosts programs about natural resources, plants and animals of the Great Plains. It is a popular destination for area residents, students, teachers and community groups. The adjacent 240-acre Chisholm Creek Park boasts walking trails and bridges over varied terrain that complement the center's programs.

"We take pride in our nature center and the unique cooperative partnership that has allowed us to attract about 1.9 million visitors since 2001," said Lorrie Beck, director of the center. "In addition, staff naturalists and educators present nearly 1,700 educational programs each year to a variety of groups and audiences."

Life Abounds in a Natural Setting

Red-eared slider turtles bathe on logs in the hot summer sun. A muskrat speeds across the water with his propeller-like tail. Toads, snakes, and water-loving creatures abound in the wetland. A momma mallard duck guides her ducklings through a web of cattails.

These are unusual scenes in the heart of a city, but Great Plains Nature Center offers these sights and more in the midst of urban Wichita.

In 1998, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation awarded $300,000 to the center to create the 3,500-square-foot Koch Habitat Hall featuring dozens of exhibits. In 2007, the foundation pledged an additional $50,000 to refurbish the exhibits and support the center's youth education programs. According to Susan Addington, grants manager for the foundation, "Great Plains Nature Center is an important community resource for children, families and schools. The quality of the exhibits and the overall beauty of the walking trails and natural habitats simply can't be replicated in a classroom."

Promoting Hands-On Nature

Community groups and students of all ages come to Great Plains Nature Center to experience a new kind of hands-on, interactive learning. Visitors can participate in workshops, nature hikes, junior naturalist classes, summer camps, scout programs and more. The center also offers free resources such as pocket guides and colorful posters.


A great blue heron flies from pond to pond at Great Plains Nature Center.


Dr. Catherine Yeotis, former associate professor of science education at Wichita State University, is especially familiar with the center's activities. The now-retired professor introduced hundreds of future science teachers to Koch Habitat Hall. "Great Plains Nature Center has been a tremendous asset," Yeotis said. "Many students and even teachers have never had an opportunity to experience natural habitats and wildlife firsthand. The center provides that opportunity within an urban area and it is available to everyone, free of charge."

In addition to Great Plains Nature Center, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation supports a variety of wildlife preservation and education projects including the Koch Wetlands Exhibit inside the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

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