The lowland area is bounded on the north, south and west by steep limestone, sandstone and clay bluffs, some reaching 100 feet above the marsh floor. From the higher vantage point, you can see large pools of water and mudflats. The shallows are alive with foraging shorebirds, including phalaropes, black-necked stilts, egrets and great blue herons. The sky above is busy with new flocks arriving and others lifting and moving to new areas.
Native Americans and early settlers recognized the area's uniqueness and importance. The lowlands is named after the Cheyenne tribe, whose warriors fought to keep the area as their hunting grounds. One such battle was said to be against the Kiowa's or Pawnee's; history is unclear. The particularly bloody battle took place in 1825 and one of the streams running into the Bottoms was said to have run red with blood, hence the name Blood Creek.
In 1925, the Kansas Forestry Fish and Game Commission was created, and the agency assumed the responsibility of developing the Bottoms. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended creating a national wildlife refuge, but funding was not available. However, in 1937, the U.S. Congress approved the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provided revenues collected from sales taxes imposed on sporting arms and ammunition. Still in force today, the Act redistributed funding for wildlife restoration projects in the U.S. These federal dollars allowed the Forestry, Fish and Game Commission to purchase and develop the southeast part of the lowland area. Dikes, roads and hunting blinds were built, and a part of the area was opened to public hunting in 1952.
Through the years, managers of the Bottoms were often frustrated by the cyclical availability of water for the marsh. A multi-million dollar renovation by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks in the 1990s, however, substantially enhanced the department's ability to manage water and the marsh. Pools were subdivided, and hunting/ nesting islands constructed. The primary benefit of subdividing the pools was that less water is now needed to flood a pool, a critical feature in years when water is in short supply.
The manager now has the ability to place limited water in a pool with less surface area, thereby reducing loss of water to evaporation. Installation of new pump stations enhances the department's ability to manipulate water on the wildlife area. These and other improvements make possible more reliable habitats for the tremendous variety of wildlife that live or visit here.
The largest marsh in the interior of the U.S., Cheyenne Bottoms has been officially designated a Wetland of International Importance. The area is considered the most important shorebird migration point in the western hemisphere. About 45 percent of the North AMerican shorebird population stops at the Bottoms during spring migration. At least 320 species of birds have been recorded here. The area is critical habitat for several threatened and endangered species, such as whooping cranes, peregrine falcons, least terns, and piping plovers. Thousands of sandhill cranes stop here on their spring and fall migrations. In addition, the area also contains raccoons, deer beavers, muskrats, and mink as well as a variety of reptiles and amphibians.
Anyone who happens across the Bottoms during the spring and fall migrations, especially, will be treated to a truly unique wild spectacle.