By Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune Editor [email protected]
Halloween is Elizabeth Walker’s favorite holiday. New at the helm of the Pratt Education Center in April 2022, Walker rightly sent in updates that have added new life and some spooky creatures to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and East Pratt Parks.
Last week, Walker carved a special pumpkin home for HELIUM, a slithery, colorful king snake that was part of the KDWP Halloween booth at Moonrise Merchants.
He said he has spent time in the past few weeks chasing tarantulas the size of his fists in the dark streets near the Sun City. Several of which now feature prominently near the front entrance of the education center at 512 SE 25th Ave.
And for the past several months, Walker has been immersed in self-described chaos as he changes shows, creates better viewing environments and fish tanks, mechanical tanks and an all-purpose education center.
“I’m so happy that I got my dream job,” Walker said. “I have so many ideas on how we can be more engaged with the public, bring more visitors to the Meadow and to this place. It’s here for me now that I take it every day, with the most important things while working on a major rebranding effort.
Walker said he hoped to create more opportunities for community engagement and change the education center into more of a nature center where people can take a weekend nature walk.
“I want the weekly Saturday entertainment to walk with a different focus,” he said. “We were able to do bird walks and count local bird species, butterfly walks, frog walks, spider walks and more.”
Starting this weekend, Walker has established weekly open hours at the center, accepting visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., just like on weekdays. These new weekend hours will continue through the fall and winter.
“We have a lot of reptiles and amphibians to see here, plus many new invertebrates,” Walker said. “It just makes sense to add the weekend because that’s when parents have more time to raise their kids and experience nature here.”
While joining the Pratt Education Center, Walker designed a fixed filter system and established a native fish population in it. With exploding PVC pipes, he quarantined sick fish, and applied for grants to help with the formation/organization project.
“We have to reveal the reptile room for the new walk behind structure,” he said. “That will allow us to get closer to snakes and herps than just having access to the top of the lake. I want to change this environment to make it more like nature, plus this will make it a safer, better experience for everyone.
Walker said he spent a significant amount of time creating diagrams, researching and finding ways to better use the assets at the center, as well as to grow the collections.
Along with Strecke, the field hedgehog-nosed snake, and Sunflower, the variegated king snake, and Rosie, the Sun City tarantula, Fabricius added several tarantulas, garden spiders, centipedes, cold herps, and lizards for visitors to enjoy. with all the equestrian, Kansas-native, exhibiting animal species. “These new additions are not care, but animal ambassadors,” Walker said. “They are here to teach people about animals. All animals are cool and have an end. I invite anyone to the center before, and those who have never been, to come out and see what they are doing. I just have fun getting everything ready.”
When celebrating Halloween this year, Walker said she had big plans that included costumes for all the dead horses and a kiddie in the middle of the carnival, but she changed plans and went along with KDWP workers who set up Merchants Park in Pratt. to give out candy, goody bags and educational items on Monday late afternoon.
“I’m not happy to put a dream opportunity on hold for a nature center that is an active part of this community in motion,” Walker said. “I would really like to start an internship program with local schools to help youth with an interest in nature so they can explore opportunities.”
Walker, a native of Dayton, Ohio, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of San Antonio, Texas, and by a twist of fate met Mike Rader, KDWP Deer Education Supervisor, during a wildlife identification review. This source hired him to direct the Pratt Education Center.
“I’m a huge nerd by nature, really into hunting, with a love of education,” Walker said. “I wish Kansas had a few more trees, but they’re so big.”