Baker University students protest potential sale of land near wetlands discovery center to developers

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Baker University student protesters made it clear Monday that the potential sale of wet prairie lands near the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center will not fly with them.

“It was a surprise, and I feel like students and faculty should be involved in this decision,” said Frankie Beydler, Baker sophomore. “We were blindsided by it.”

Students said the news began spreading around the Baldwin City campus last Wednesday and then the university shared a statement with them on Thursday. Shortly after, students organized an Instagram page, where they responded with disapproval.

“We just think it’s really crazy that they’d even consider selling the wetlands at all,” said Kylee Fillinger, Baker junior. “It’s a special place to anybody who goes to Baker and everybody on campus.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Frankie Beydler, at center wearing a yellow shirt
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Kylee Fillinger

A private investment company has approached the university about buying a parcel of land near the discovery center for the development of affordable housing, according to a statement from Baker last week. The university’s statement said they had not made a final decision about the land sale yet.

The property is about 16 acres in a triangular shape directly north of the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. It’s directly southeast of Kansas Highway 10, and northeast of the intersection of North 1250 and East 1350 roads. 

It’s part of the land encircled by the yellow loop trail on the university’s loops and trail map. In the university’s statement last week, it said that “This parcel of land is not part of the Baker Wetlands and is not positioned within the floodplain.” According to a map on Douglas County’s website, the land is not within the floodway, but portions of the parcel are in FEMA’s 100-year and 500-year flood hazard areas. (See maps in the article at this link.)

“Even though it’s such a small parcel of land, it still has a purpose,” Beydler said. “And any effects that happen, it’ll cause a cascade to the rest of the wetlands.”

In August 1968, Baker received 572.68 acres of wetlands for free through a 30-year Quit Claim Deed, according to its wetlands website. The land previously belonged to Haskell Indian Nations University.


Some people advocating for Haskell were present at the protest Monday.

Haskell alum and wetlands researcher Courtney Eddy King, Peoria and Miami, said Baker is continuing to harm Haskell, now reaching a tipping point. To her knowledge, the Baker administration has not reached out to Haskell about its potential plans to sell the land.

“We’ve had no relationship with Baker,” King said. “They got that land for free through KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation), through SLT (South Lawrence Trafficway) mitigations off of Haskell’s back. So again, just twisting the knife 56 years later. It’s just so obvious at this point that they don’t care.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Courtney Eddy King holds a sign above her head.

As King joined with the Baker community Monday, she said it could be a good starting point to further collaborate with students.

“Save the Wakarusa River Valley, save the Wakarusa Wetlands, save the Haskell Wetlands, save the Baker Wetlands, save these green spaces for past, present and future generations,” King said.

Students said as they were organizing Monday’s protest, they wanted to get a fuller picture of Baker’s ownership of the wetlands. Their professors helped fill in gaps.

“There absolutely is a lot of history there,” Baker junior Jalynn Murry said. “As of right now, we have not reached out to Haskell. Our goal, ultimately, is to start with prevention. And then hopefully move towards continuing conservation. And if that means building a relationship with Haskell, that would be wonderful.”

Murry and Fillinger are two of several students who frequently learn and research in the Baker Wetlands as part of their courses, and they said the sale of surrounding wet prairie land directly threatens that.

“It’s where we go to learn, and for them to make this decision kind of goes against everything that we have learned about the wetlands itself like keeping nature at peace and things like that,” Fillinger said.

Murry added, “It’s disheartening. I remember the first time we went out there, our professor being like, ‘Welcome to your classroom.’ I probably go out there for classes and assignments at least once every two weeks.”

Attendance fluctuated, but approximately 40 people were present to support the protest outside of Baker’s Harter Union Monday. Folks held signs that read sentiments like “Baker students say no” and “Save prairie ecosystems.” Student organizers spoke with passers-by, sharing informational flyers and encouraging more signatures on their petition. 

By the end of the protest at around 1 p.m., the petition had received more than 160 signatures, according to students running the Baker Student Voices for Wetlands Instagram page. Stay updated with ongoing wetlands advocacy on the Save the Wakarusa River Valley Facebook page. Stay updated with Baker students advocating for the wetlands on their Instagram page, @bakerstudentvoicesforwetlands.

A spokesperson for the university did not respond to an email seeking comment Monday.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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