PRATT — Almost four months into her new career as director of the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism Education Center in Pratt, Diedre Kramer, 26, is living out her childhood dream of exploring and studying things creepy and crawly.
“Dad would take me fishing,” Kramer said, “but I had no interest in that. I was out turning over rocks, looking for bugs and plants and, once when I was about 6, I got in trouble with my Mom for pulling all the buds off her peony plants because I wanted to dissect them to see all the petals before they bloomed.”
Kramer grew up in rural Norton in northwestern Kansas and followed her childhood passion for plants and critters to earn a bachelor degree in botany from Fort Hays State University in 2017 and is on track to complete a master’s degree in herpetology this fall, also from Fort Hays.
When Chris Shrack retired in March as long-tenured KDWPT Education Center director, Kramer was selected from the field of applicants and took the reins as director of the center, housed in a 24,000-square-foot-plus, two-story brick structure which dates back to 1913, as her first job out of college.
“I’d like to add my own spin on things,” Kramer said. “I’d like to focus on teaching conservation and give the educational aspect of conservation a little bit of a facelift.”
Some of the new things to see at the Education Center are baby turtles and toads, said Kramer, who has hosted several tours since she took the Education Center reins the last week of March.
“One of my focuses has been on amphibians and their adaptation and how they compare to reptiles,” Kramer said.
Amphibians, which include frogs, salamanders and toads, have slimy skin, absorb water through their skin and have a two-stage life cycle, while reptiles shed their skin and require a very dry environment.
“They both lay eggs in water and they are both cold-blooded,” Kramer said.
The Education Center’s aquarium section of six 500-gallon tanks and six 200-gallon tanks is being renovated to resemble streams and rivers through Kansas, according to Kramer.
“It’s a 3- to 4-year project and a joint effort of a lot of people who are making it happen,” Kramer said of the renovation effort that was initiated under Shrack’s tenure and is scheduled for completion in 2019.
The renovation of two tanks have already been completed, both featuring Wilson Reservoir in Russell County.
The Education Center, 512 East 25th Avenue, is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and in summer hours are extended to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
“There’s a lot of history here and there’s more history to be made,” Kramer said. “I’m honored for the opportunity to be a part of making it.”