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Great Plains Nature Center Is An Oasis For Wichitans Seeking The Great Outdoors, Indoors

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Lu Anne Stephens
Great Plains Nature Center director Amanda Alessi shows off a salamander.

The exhibit hall somewhat mirrors the surrounding Chisholm Creek Park with displays that highlight the prairie, wetlands and woodlands.

Charla Burns and her granddaughter, Elsie, are at a woodlands display at the Great Plains Nature Center, which asks you to find birds and animals hidden among the trees.

“Do you see the deer?” Burns asks her granddaughter. “Is there just one deer?

“OK, he’s a mammal.”

Like most of the exhibits in the center’s Koch Habitat Hall, the display is instructional — as well as fun.

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Lu Anne Stephens

The hall somewhat mirrors Chisholm Creek Park — which is right outside — with exhibits that highlight the prairie, wetlands and woodlands.

“The mission here at the Great Plains Nature Center is to provide opportunities for the public to learn about and investigate the Great Plains and then the nature around them,” said Amanda Alessi, who took over as the center’s director in May.

“We provide a lot of educational programming and through that, we help people learn about what is here, the nature in their own backyard.”

Within the hall there are dioramas with pronghorns and prairie dogs, bison and box turtles. There are displays showing just how tall the tallgrass prairie can get — 10 feet — and how deep its roots go — also 10 feet.

There are things to play with, to touch and to hear, like the Animal Sounds of the Great Plains. Visitors can push a button to hear what their favorite species sounds like, from a red-tailed hawk to a prairie dog.

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Lu Anne Stephens

At the far side of the hall’s loop is an almost hidden observatory where you can look out at the wetlands and not be bothered by the fickle Kansas weather.

“A lot of people like to come sit here and read,” Alessi said.

“When it thunders here and big storms come down, I rush down here to just kind of watch.”

The Nature Center has a huge aquarium – 2,200 gallons – with fish you would find in local lakes and rivers.

There’s a lighted display that shows where those lakes and rivers are – and how little surface water Kansas really has.

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Lu Anne Stephens
The 2,200-gallon aquarium is stocked with fish you could find in local lakes and rivers.

But the programs don’t only exist inside the building. The center works in tandem with Chisholm Creek Park with annual events like Walk with Wildlife, which gives people a chance to get up close and personal with animals they might not see all the time.

There’s also outreach programs and field trips with local schools.

The Great Plains Nature Center and Chisholm Creek Park are an urban oasis. You don’t need expensive equipment or special training to enjoy it, and you don’t need to travel for hours or days to get there.