‘It’s really disheartening’: Haskell Wetlands vandalized, boardwalk significantly damaged

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The only existing boardwalk in the Haskell Wetlands — aside from the various pallets that line some of the walkway — was vandalized this week.

Courtney King, Peoria and Miami, said she was last at the wetlands Tuesday afternoon and discovered the destruction Thursday morning.

“I was just shocked. It’s really disheartening,” King said.

Some boards have been ripped off and placed back on the base with the screws facing up, and some boards were left in the water.

A bench that had been secured to the deck was also in the water. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A bench and information kiosk that had been secured to the base of the boardwalk was also thrown into the water.

Any nesting critters around the boardwalk, such as crawdads and bullfrogs, may have been disturbed by the upheaval of their habitat. 

Even deer use the boardwalk, but “Now they can’t even try to use this, and if they did they could stab their hooves,” King said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Some of the removed boards were placed back on the base of the boardwalk upside down so that the screws faced up.

Over the years, the Haskell Wetlands has experienced minor vandalism, like people carving their initials into wood or spray painting. “But this is destructive vandalism,” King said.

King said it appeared someone got in the water to destroy the boardwalk. A patch of cattails near the structure was trampled where someone may have stood. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A patch of trampled cattails are partially submerged to the right of the intact part of the boardwalk, with a similarly sized patch that hasn’t been trampled on the left.

Brittany Hall, Shawnee, said she noticed a discarded item on the ground near the boardwalk when she went to see the damage Friday.

A Lawrence police officer came to collect the item. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A Lawrence police officer retrieves a personal item that was discovered near the site of the vandalism. Next to him is Brittany Hall.

“I’ve never seen anything left behind,” said King, who spends time at the wetlands almost every day. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen somebody leave something behind.”

King said the boardwalk has been there since 2010, and she was not aware of any serious vandalism until just a couple of days after Baker University’s announcement Tuesday that it would not sell a parcel of wet prairie land near the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center. 

Baker received 572.68 acres of wetlands for free in August 1968 through a 30-year Quit Claim Deed, according to its wetlands website. The land previously belonged to Haskell Indian Nations University. Baker students, the Haskell National Board of Regents and other community members had voiced opposition to the potential sale.

The Wetlands Preservation Organization, along with dozens of Haskell and KU students and staff members, started building the boardwalk in 2010. King said she hopes to rebuild the boardwalk but does not yet have information about a plan.

“We’ve been pouring our love and efforts into this area, and for someone to come here and disrespect our Haskell community and disrespect this ecosystem does not sit right with me,” King said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times A trampled patch of cattails is partially submerged next to the destroyed boardwalk.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Some boards of the boardwalk have been ripped off the base. Some of the boards have been placed back on the base upside down so that their exposed screws face upward.
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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