Seeking to balance nature and commercial development in an ecologically sensitive area, the Wichita City Council reviewed plans this week for a $7.2 million wetland park to be built at Cadillac Lake in northwest Wichita.
The primary features of the park will be flood-proof galvanized steel boardwalks and wildlife observation stations modeled on the leaves of native lotus plants, said Hans Klein-Hewett, landscape architect with RDg Planning and Design, the company hired by the city to design the park.
The park is planned for a wetlands area near Maize Road and 29th Street North.
“There is an incredible amount of natural wildlife that flocks to this area, literally,” Klein-Hewett said. “We were out there in November of last year, literally thousands of birds flying around us at dusk. It was an amazing, breathtaking, almost spiritual experience. This is a very special piece of property you have here.”
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When complete, the 56-acre Pracht Wetlands Park – named for its former longtime owners – could be the largest urban wetland park in the country and a significant attraction for tourism, said Mayor Jeff Longwell.
It will be “a wonderful unique park that I think is going to be certainly special for the city,” he said.
Slawson Cos., which donated the wetlands to the city, is planning a major hotel and restaurant development just west of the park.
The city is hoping to create a destination where people will be able to come for the hotels and restaurants and complete their visit with a nature walk through the park. Or, vice versa, they could come for the park and stick around for dinner and drinks.
The city is working with Westar Energy on the development of the park.
The actual construction will be limited to the northern half of the property. That leaves the southern half – behind the existing Lowe’s and Academy Sports stores on Maize Road – more or less pristine for the wildlife.
The project is designed in four phases:
▪ Phase one, costing $800,000, will include a trailhead, parking lot and landscaping on the south side of 29th Street, leading to about an eighth of a mile of boardwalk that goes to an observation point.
▪ Phase two, $1.8 million, will include a boardwalk starting near the planned hotel site west of the park, crossing Cadillac Lake and running about a fifth of a mile to an observation point.
▪ Phase three, $3 million, will consist of more boardwalk and bridges linking phases one and two and completing about a half-mile circle through the park, along with an observation tower for viewing the entire area.
▪ Phase four, $1.6 million, will be a perimeter trail around the entire park.
The first phase will be financed using city capital improvement money that’s already approved, said council member Bryan Frye, who has taken the lead on the project.
He said project leaders think they’ll be able to fund phase two with grants and some of the proceeds from the city’s sale of the Hyatt Regency hotel.
Those two phases can be built fairly quickly, he said.
Phase three may have to wait for additional funding, possibly from donors or sponsors.
“That would be my dream, if we could get all three phases done at the same time to eliminate intrusion and construction and also get some economies of scale, but that phase three’s a big ask,” for money, Frye said.