Jamestown Dedication and managing the Wetlands

By Sharon Sahlfeld

Beloit Call Sports Editor

Local sportsman, area residents and political leaders joined the leaders of several conservation organizations in celebrating the dedication of the Jamestown Wetland Renovation Project on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at the Gun Club Marsh dam site.

Master of Ceremonies for the dedication was Scott Manley, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Jackson, MS. The invocation was given by Johnny Belz, TX and the youth led in the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. Speakers included Keith Sexson, Assistant Secretary of Operation, Kansas Dept. of Wildlife and Parks; Jane Irvine, Greenwing Legacy Advocate, Leavenworth; Tom Warner, former Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commissioner; Bill Watson, The Nature Conservancy, Wichita; Dennis Haag, Kansas Alliance of Wetlands and Stream, Salina; Jordan Martincich, Pheasants Forever, Ottawa; Kirk Lowell, Cloud Corp, Concordia; Barth Couch, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Salina; Representative Elaine Bowers, Concordia; and concluded by Judy Hill, Mayor, Jamestown.

The day of the dedication began at 9:30 when Greenwing Legacy members (youth members) of Ducks Unlimited, Inc. banded geese with leg bands and neck collars, then released them onto the marsh. After a short break, a drawing was held in which Lori Slate, Jewell, won a copy of a limited edition print entitled "Jamestown Revisited" by Harold Roe, wildlife artist.

"The dedication marks the end of phase one in a multiphase renovation project," said Rob Unruh, Wildlife Manager for Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, These historic wetlands were deteriorating due to sediment deposited in the wetland from the 138 square miles of the Marsh Creek Watershed which lies mostly in Jewell County, but also in Republic and Cloud counties."

The Kansas Forestry Fish and Game Commission purchased back several tracts from private landowners in 1932 and began management of what was referred to as Republic County State Lake, which is now Gamekeeper Marsh, the largest marsh that lies just north of Gun Club Marsh which is where the dedication took place. The old Jamestown Gun Club was purchased by the agency in the 1950's and 60's and became Gun Club Marsh.

The area is managed by Rob Unruh, Webber, and Assistant Manager, Matt Farmer, Concordia. It is supervised by Public Lands Supervisor, Bruce Taggart, Hays. Law enforcement duties are shared by the Wildlife Area Managers, Lieutenant Lynn Thompson, Scandia, and Natural Resource Officers Todd Robinson, Concordia and Michael Peterson, Mankato.

Rob Unruh was hired in January of 1990 to manage several wildlife areas in North Central Kansas with Jamestown being one of those areas. "I have been hunting in Jamestown for several years prior to being hired by KDWP so I was familiar with the territory and the mud, oh the mud!, said Unruh.

Working for another conservation agency prior to his employment at Jamestown, Unruh understood the landscape and the processes responsible for the sediment which had filled the marshes. "Now it has become my chance to explore options to keep this marsh functioning for wildlife to migrate to and hunters to build memories with," stated Unruh.

The natural salt marsh wetland located on the 140 mile drainage of Marsh Creek is historically old and was mentioned in Col. Zebulon Pike's journals and in many historical accounts, surveyors notes and early naturalist bird findings. They were wet and then in the summer they were dry leaving the salt laying on top of the cracked soil. Sometimes that schedule was reversed but it attracted wildlife and water attracted people. Early settlers tried to dam the marshes to make the wet season last longer than the dry. Floods would cover vast areas in the flat creek bottoms. They would not last long but maybe several in a year.

The marshes had been managed as lakes by the early Forestry Fish and Game Commission since 1932 but they were really marshes all along. Management was at the pleasure of the creek. "The former managers showed me copies of grand projects to offset the sediment and control the water but they never quite got funded and those old hunters would tell the tales of the good old days but they didn't quite remember the bad days," said Unruh, "When it was time to ask the public if they thought the marshes were worth saving they all said yes. They offered ideas, brushed off old plans to be updated and even money if we could make a plan. The old duck hunters were told that the renovation would dry up the marshes for awhile and they were willing to make the sacrifice."

Matt Farmer has known Rob since he was ten years old. "Not to make him sound old or anything, but he has a picture of me when the department initiated its first youth season," said Farmer, "I was fifteen years old when my dad and a friend brought myself and two other youngsters to Jamestown. We had a great hunt and an even better experience."

Now Farmers experience has brought him back to the wetlands to assist Unruh in managing the wetlands.

Farmer started working in the Jamestown Wildlife area on December, 2008. He attended the Kansas Law Enforcement training center for law enforcement certification January through mid April at Marion Reservoir in 2006. At Marion, he was a seasonal employee through the summers in college and was hired as a Public Lands Wildlife Biologist Technician. He has been with KDWP since March of 2006.

Farmer was hired at Jamestown Wildlife Area to assist with the operation and management of the area. Rob has three other properties he manages along with Jamestown. Farmer's job is to lighten his load where ever he can. He oversees projects that take place on the area and coordinates with contractors to make sure everything runs smooth. He assist with habitat development and management, which includes moving water to flood habitat for waterfowl, burning uplands for ground nesting birds, controlling noxious weeds and unwanted vegetation on the area, and anything else that we include in our management plan. He supervises several seasonal employees and is responsible for the maintenance of the area infrastructure, equipment and buildings on the area. Farmer performs Law Enforcement duties as well, patrolling opening and busy weekends and is in the area throughout the year. He works with other Area Managers and Biologists inside and outside the department on surveys and research projects that take place throughout the year.

"Law Enforcement is another management tool that is crucial for our resources on the area," said Farmer, "My job is to make sure every one is safe and that they are following our state/federal laws and regulations."

Farmer works with other organizations to plan special events such as youth hunts, special hunts/events such as the dedication. He also gives presentations to groups about the area and the natural resources of Kansas.

"As managers, we wear a lot of different hats. We do everything from paying bills and cleaning toilets, to working on equipment and writing articles for our magazine and our area web page," says Farmer, "If you can think of anything at all, we do it on our areas. We are passionate about what we do and we want our users to enjoy our areas as much as possible."

"I love working at Jamestown," said Farmer, "I have always been interested in wetland management, and to come to an area that is growing and improving is very exciting to me. I find the job challenging and I am learning a lot from Rob and the other managers in this region. The improvements we have made have been exciting as well. It is great to see how the local community has supported this project. These improvements will allow us to be able to produce the best habitat possible for the wildlife that thrive here and for our users enjoy."

Farmer lives in Concordia with his wife of four years and his 16 month old daughter. "I grew up hunting ducks here at Jamestown and harvested my first duck here when I was eleven years old," said Farmer, "I have been blessed with a family who loves the outdoors." Hunting, fishing and camping out was a major part Farmer's childhood. He decided at an early age that he wanted to work with wildlife and has always been interested in managing habitat for wildlife. "It is very rewarding to see people on our area (especially kids and families) having great experiences while hunting, fishing, and/or camping," said Farmer, "My father has been an avid waterfowler his whole life. He has been a major influence on me and is still my best hunting partner. We have always been close and I consider him to be my best friend. I believe that is all because he took the time 24 year ago to take me along and show me what the outdoors and hunting were all about. He started taking me duck hunting when I was four years old, and I have been a "waterfowl junkie" ever since. I can't get enough of it. My wife loves to join me on some hunts to harvest a few birds and take pictures."

Rob Unruh has become the right person at the right place and time. With Rob in the lead, joined by the cast of Scott Manley, Eric Held and Bruce Taggart, with backing from Secretary Mike Hayden, Fish and Wildlife Division Director Joe Kramer and Public Lands Section Chief Brad Simpson, local constituents and legislators, these improvements have been carried out like clockwork.

"The engineers drew up plans and we would evaluate and then look for partners to help with funding the project," say Rob Unruh. We formed a group of 15 partners. We applied for the grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, twice! We finally got approved and construction began. Bids were let and contractors came to work from Louisiana, Beloit and Oklahoma. Drainage canals were built first but they not only helped dry the marsh to help construction but are a part of the seasonal water management we will use for years to come. The new Marsh Creek Marsh was constructed to gain almost 300 more acres of habitat. The old Gun Club Dam was raised to gain back some water depth lost from years of sediment buildup. Then the berm in the middle of Gun Club Marsh was constructed to divide the marsh and help us manage water and habitat better, especially in the dry years when at least one side will have the water needed for migrating waterfowl and fall hunting. A by pass canal was also constructed to move water stored in the upper Marsh, Gamekeeper, into the west marsh of Gun Club. We also constructed the drainage canals in Gamekeeper Marsh in preparation of a future project. We had a lot of help.

At the start of the dedication, Speaker, Jane Irvine, Greenwing president said, "The dedication today is proof of hard work where state and federal came together to help save our wetlands. The Carin monument dedicated in 1932 to preserve our wetlands left a legacy over 75 years ago for the future of Ducks Unlimited."

Junior Greenwings are younger Ducks Unlimited members. By joining DU, they participate in the conservation, restoration and management of wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. A contribution of $10 makes a Greenwing member of Ducks Unlimited. As a DU Greenwing member, they can be proud to know that they are one of more than 60,000 young people who love the outdoors and care about protecting wetlands across North America.

In 1985 Kansas Fish and Game Commission partnered with Ducks Unlimited to purchase habitat and build several small wetlands, the first project of this type in Kansas. More lands were purchased in the 1990's and the Shelley Wetland and the Jamestown Oxbow Marshes were completed.

In 2001, it was decided to get serious about making significant improvements to Jamestown for future generations. A public meeting was held in Concordia and the consensus was to move forward with a renovation project. Ducks Unlimited stepped forward and Scott Manley was assigned to the project. This was the start of something big for Jamestown.

In 2002, an engineer was needed to put ideas on paper and Chris Cox, a lifelong hunter of Jamestown, from Schwab-Eaton Engineering took an interest in the project. He was later joined by Eric Held, DU Engineer, to progressively plan towards results on the ground.

The plans were presented to the public in 2003 and everyone was realizing this renovation was really going to happen.

A contract to develop drainage channels in Gun Club Marsh was completed and additional wetlands were purchased in 2004.

In 2005, new acquisitions made it possible for a new large marsh below Gun Club and the 300 acre Marsh Creek Marsh, which backs up to the Gun Club Dam behind were the dedication took place, was born.

Also in 2005, the first Jamestown North American Wetland Conservation Act grant (NAWCA) was submitted and rejected, but the council said they could resubmit if the funds were secured with partner support. In just 60 days, a total of 13 new partners and $152,000 was submitted and the $3.2 million grant was approved.

Gun Club Marsh dam was modified in 2006 and raised one foot to offset the loss of water depth due to sedimentation. The average depth at the time was only 18 inches.

The Gun Club Phase I Project began in 2007 with construction of the subdividing berm which split the marsh in two for better habitat management. Marsh acres loss for berm construction, were mitigated by building the small 14 acre marsh directly below Gun Club. A bypass canal was also constructed to move normal creek flows from the Gamekeeper Dam, trough the west side of Gun Club Marsh. Phase I construction was complete with the drainage channels for Gamekeeper Marsh and replacing he old slide gate.

In December 2007, the 2nd NAWCA grant was received for $1.4 million land acquisition from willing sellers. To date there have been three acquisitions adding 185 acres. All these acres remain on the local county tax roles.

In 2008, with the help and support of local Concordia Representative Elaine Bowers, the new Assistant Manager position was achieved. Matt Farmer, a lifelong hunter of Jamestown started work in December 2008.

During the 2009 ceremony, Representative Elaine Bowers, Concordia, thanked Rob Unruh for all that he has done on the project. "It has been a learning experience and we have been able to keep the front doors open for the project," she said.

Awarded in 2009, a grant from Conoco/Pillips, will result in a $220,000 project called Buffalo Creek Marshes located just across the Buffalo Creek Bridge north of the city of Jamestown. With support from conservation partners, DU, and the Play Lakes Joint Venture, the Buffalo Creek Marsh project will create 197 acres of marsh that will be ready to hunt in 2010.

Tom Warner, former Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commissioner; and now a professor at K-State in natural resources said, "Thirty three years ago at the overlook, I saw open water with ducks everywhere and I knew then, we had found a very special place. I come and hunt here every year and I am a strong supporter in the development of the Marsh." He continued, "We have had tremendous support by the Wildlife and Parks and I tip my hat to them for their support. I hope the Wildlife and Parks and sportsman continue to work on this development. It's not done yet. I come here for outdoor recreation and I wish to thank Rob Unruh for his always helpful way. He is a good guy to be around, a true professional, a mainstay always there to say hi and welcome us to our site."

Scott Manley, Ducks Unlimited, Inc. and Master of the ceremony, presented speaker Bill Watson, The Nature Conservancy, Wichita. "I showed Watson the project from an airplane and it was a bumpy ride that day," said Manley, "Both of us were looking a little green and I told Bill that if he promised to help us out I would take him down," Manley said laughingly, as he introduced Watson to the podium.

"This movement has gone forward but has been a long journey and without all the pieces in the middle it would have never worked," said Watson, "It has all been about connections. About connections of water flowing, that provides for wildlife. A connection that is hard to understand and easy to disrupt. A connection between the government, county, landowners, etc. Today, I appreciate the chance to celebrate that connection that made this all possible, and to be a part of this project.

Dennis Hagg, Kansas Alliance of Wetlands and Stream from Salina talked about KAWS and their outlook on the Jamestown project.

KAWS is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure the future of wetland and streams for future of generations. KAWS works with local people to create, protect and restore our state’s wetland and stream resources. Organized in 1996, KAWS is a 501.C.3. educational public charity reaching a broad spectrum of individuals, groups, and governments to improve the wetlands and streams they own or control. KAWS provides its services through 12 local chapters that cover the entire state.

Jordan Martincich, Pheasants Forever speaker of Ottawa, thanked all the Chapters for their support and said, "It is great to see all the young people here and getting involved. Kids, I hope you remember your parents, uncles or whoever are taking you hunting are doing you a service and always thank them."

Barth Couch, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Salina, said, "We are not done yet. We still have to focus on our mission."

Speaker Kirk Lowell, Cloud Corp, Concordia, said, "There has been local partnership that has helped make this happen and Rob Unruh is the spark plug that keeps it running. We need our local participation and regional coalition with Cloud County commissioners. Without our local and political help this would not be possible."

Jamestown mayor, Judy Hill, thanked all who were their to support the dedication and invited them to the community hall for a wonderful dinner which was prepared by Jude's and sponsored by Ducks Unlimited. Mayor Hill concluded with a prayer. Hill and Bowers along with Greenwing, Justin Saathoff of Lawrence, unveiled the Carin Monument overlooking the Marsh.

The wildlife area is a 4,729 acre public hunting area and is situated in the Central Flyway, making it an important migration stopover for waterfowl, shore birds and other water birds, including the endangered whooping crane, which is a frequent visitor in both spring and fall.

"This project is the result of a partnership between 15 different groups and organizations." continued Unruh, "Together they supported the 3.2 million dollar renovation. Without this renovation, the marsh would have filled with sediment and cattails, and ceased to exist someday."

Unruh explained that current farming and conservation methods on the watershed have drastically reduced the amount of sediment that now comes into the marsh. However, with the renovation, Wildlife Area managers are able now to better control excessive stands of cattails, provide better habitat for wildlife and it improved the area with better access for hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

"The key element in the renovation was better water management, said Unruh, No sediment was removed due to the prohibitive cost and environmental concern."

In March 2010, another NAWCA grant will be submitted to enhance existing Marsh Creek Marsh and a pumping facility for the Buffalo Creek Marshes. Department funds used for the construction of Buffalo Creek Marsh this year will be used as match in NAWCA III next year.

Partners of the Jamestown Wetland Renovation Project are: Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks; North American Wetland Conservation Council (NAWCA); Ducks Unlimited, Inc.; The Nature Conservancy; Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams; Pheasants Forever; Westar Energy; Kansas Wildlife Federation; Cloud Corp; Cloud County Board of Commissioners; City of Jamestown; Cloud County Convention and Tourism; Jewell County Board of Commissioners; Republic County Board of Commissioners; and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“In order to secure the NAWCA grant we had to show support from this partnership; NAWCA contributed $1 million while the 2.2 million dollar balance was a combined effort from the other groups,” said Unruh.

Rob Unruh commented, "If you attended the dedication you saw the shadow of the good old days and the folks, almost 200 strong. The old duck hunters, former managers and the new faces of the young Greenwings that banded the wild geese. They all still said yes. We will still manage at the pleasure of the creek but we have learned a lot about her and will try to work with her to mimic the natural wet and dry cycles and of course manage for the future. Water for everyone and every living thing is important. We need more good old days outdoors, more old duck hunters. It takes young duck hunters to make old duck hunters and older need to recruit the younger. Oh the mud? It's still there but it's not so bad when it has a chance to dry out and grow plants that wildlife love."