ARKANSAS CITY — The Wichita Audubon Society’s search for a site for a nature center found an answer and a home northwest of Arkansas City.

In 1973, the Wichita Audubon Society purchased land that once belonged to the Chaplin family and the organization continues to manage it. Chaplin Nature Center-based naturalist Shawn Silliman said 230 acres offer a varied habitat: prairie, forest and water. Visitors come to watch birds, exercise on a walking trail or just to be outdoors, he said.

A January 2019 post on The Kansas Trail Guide’s website, kansastrailguide.com, recommended Chaplin Nature Center — as well as Milford State Park in Geary County — as two locations offering “a good hike with a chance to see bald eagles.”

Silliman said more than 200 species of birds have been seen through the years at the site. Previous owner Hazel Chaplin was fascinated by the birds seen there and wanted the land preserved, he said.

The trails are open to the public from dawn to dusk every day, at no charge. An approximately 3,000-square-foot Visitor’s’ Center features a display highlighting the habitat. Also on display is an egg collection over 100 years old.

People used to collect wild bird eggs, Silliman said. It’s illegal now, so the old egg collection generates interest.

The Visitor’s Center also hosts a number of educational programs, he said. On average, Chaplin Nature Center draws about 5,000 visitors a year, he said.

“We’re not really on the beaten path,” he said.

South-central Kansans are those most likely to visit Chaplin. That includes people traveling from the Wichita-Derby area, he said, and people living in Chaplin’s home county, Cowley County.

Kyle Anstine is from Arkansas City, and he called Chaplin Nature Center “a little gem.”

Anstine now lives in Oklahoma — he’s director of catering at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater — but he still enjoys kayaking the Arkansas City in the vicinity of Chapin Nature Center. The river’s current can glide a kayak downstream without requiring steady paddling, he said.

On Saturday, June 1, the Chaplin Nature Center will host an evening kayak float. Pre-registration was required and by mid-April, the event was filled and registrations no longer were being taken, according to Chaplin Nature Center’s Facebook page.

Another special event that remains available is the Arkansas City Butterfly Count. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, July 13, at Chaplin Nature Center. Butterflies will be counted and identified on a hike of the trails and data will be sent to the North American Butterfly Association. Those planning to participate should call the center.

September will bring a full-moon 2K fun run/walk starting at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13. Pre-registration is required.

Admission is free to the center’s Butterfly Tagging and Nature Celebration, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28.