By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
GALENA, Kan. —
The weather looks to be near perfect for a scientific study to be conducted this weekend at Schermerhorn Park that organizers say also will serve as a teaching experience and fun outing for anyone interested in the snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles and salamanders of Southeast Kansas.
The Kansas Herpetological Society will camp at the park from today through Sunday. As many as 100 to 150 members will conduct a survey of the reptiles and amphibians there.
An estimated 30 percent of the state’s threatened and endangered species are evident at the park, which was a finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas contest in 2010.
Three times a year, the society chooses an area of the state in which to assess the distribution and abundance of herpetological species. This will mark the fourth time the group has surveyed Schermerhorn Park since it began the trips in 1974; previous surveys were conducted in July 1979, April 1994 and October 1999.
“This is quite an honor to have these folks here, because their findings will go on record in the state, the nation and all over the world,” said Linda Phipps, director of the Southeast Kansas Nature Center at the park.
Travis Taggart, associate curator of herpetology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays and a past president of the state society, is coordinating the trip. He said the group always extends an invitation to the public, including schools, Scouts and youth groups, to participate in such surveys.
“It will be a chance for you to see things you wouldn’t normally see,” he said. “And for us, it will be a chance for a lot of our new members and young members who have never experienced the area to see how unique it is, how special it is.”
Seasoned herpetologists will help beginners safely learn basic fieldwork. Seines, dip nets and turtle traps will be in use and made available, and participants will have the opportunity to photograph wildlife.
Taggart, who grew up in Southeast Kansas, said the park is a jewel because its 50 acres are adjacent to the Ozarks, and it attracts species not found anywhere else in the state. The group will post findings in an online database called the Kansas Herp Atlas administered by Taggart, and will send data to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, which is assuming operations of the center.
THIS WEEKEND’S EVENT likely will be the last one Linda Phipps attends as director of the nature center. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism announced this week that Fort Hays State University graduate Jenn Rader has been selected as the new director. Phipps for a few years had sought to retire to spend more time with her family. Rader, who has a bachelor of science degree in biology with an emphasis in biodiversity and conservation, will begin her duties in May.