|Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve|
|Location||Chase County, Kansas|
|City||Strong City, Kansas|
|Established||November 12, 1996|
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a national preserve in the state of Kansas. Located in Strong City, the park's goal is to preserve what is left of the tallgrass ecosystem. The tallgrass ecosystem once was one of the largest ecosystems in the United States, though today only 4% of what was once 140 million acres remains. Most of the ecosystem is in the Kansas Flint Hills, though it goes down into the state of Oklahoma as well. The National Park Service describes the park and the once prosperous ecosystem by saying "here the tallgrass prairie takes its last stand". The park was established in 1996. Despite the park claiming that they are the only NPS unit that preserves that tallgrass ecosystem, Fort Scott National Historic Site, also in Kansas, protects a mere 5 acres of the tallgrass prairie.
Recently, with the assistance of The Nature Conservancy and the cooperation of Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, the park was able to receive a herd of thirteen bison that now roam the park along with the hundreds of cattle and other animals. In 2008, Talllgrass Prairie National Preserve was voted as one of the 8 Kansas Wonders.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is owned and operated by three different entities in what management calls a "unique private/public partnership". The three different organizations include the National Park Service, who manages the land, The Nature Conservancy, who owns the land, and the Kansas Park Trust, who handles the bookstore and the promotion.
History of the areaEdit
The tallgrass prairie ecosystem was years ago so large that it spanned multiple states as well as Canada. Over the years, however, the ecosystem was destroyed by the coming of agriculture. The park's goal is to preserve what is left of the once 140 acre system. Today, 4 or 5% of the tallgrass prairie remains, most of it being in the Kansas Flint Hills where the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located. Years before the tallgrass prairie took its place on American soil, Kansas was covered by a large, albeit shallow, sea. Flint, which the area is named after, began to form at the bottom of the sea hundreds of millions of years ago. When the water subsided, the flint stayed, which led some farmers to assume that it would be impossible to plow in the area.In 1878, Stephen F. Jones and his wife Louisa moved to what is now the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve after leaving the state of Colorado. He bought 160 acres for $2000 and shortly thereafter on September 19, 1878 started to build a farm and a house. In September of 1880, he purchased 1,409 more acres from Topeka, Kansas, Atchison, Kansas, and the Sante Fe Railroad, among other individuals in the following years. By the end he managed to accumulate up to 7,000 acres. To keep his cattle from escaping, he built a five foot stone fence that surrounded his ranch. In 1881, Jones finished a new home that cost him $25,000. The three story house was built in a way so that he could doge certain taxes, such as making certain doors appear as if they were windows (the more doors a person had, the more taxes they were required to pay). Close to his house, he built a large barn where he could transport hay. Close to his house he donated two acres for a school to be built called the Lower Fox Creek School which, like his house and barn still stand to this day.
On February 13, 1888, Jones sold his huge ranch to Barney Lantry and his wife Bridge for $95,000. Despite the fact that the Lantrys owned the land, they rarely actually stayed at the ranch, instead staying just outside of Strong City (where the preserve is located). Instead, Barney's employees lived at the mansion and kept it nice. Lantry was an extremely wealthy man who worked on crushing rock and building railroads. He assisted in the development of a famous railroad at Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Over the next several years, the ownership of the ranch would change a variety of times. On March 14, 1907, Charles Patten bought part of the ranch. After Barney died, his son Henry Lantry took possession of the house, though the Pattens would eventually receive his share when he died in 1904. Like the Lantrys, the Pattens did not live in the house on the ranch. On March 15, 1909, almost exactly two years after Patten bought part of the ranch, Otto Benninghoven bought just over a thousand acres of the land including the buildings. During the Depression, the family, in deep financial distress, sold the ranch. Several years later the Pattens sold the rest of the ranch to Lester Urschel, who like the Benninghovens sold their ranch due to the Depression to George Davis.
George Davis had control of the ranch for much longer than the other owners. He was a wealthy man who owned more land in Kansas than any other person at 70,000 acres. All of his property combined was known as the Davis Ranch. In April of 1971, the ranch building and the complex around it became registered on the National Register of Historical Places. Four years later after a merger the ranch became known as the Z Bar Cattle Company. In 1986, after the company went under, the Boatman's National Bank of Kansas City took control of the ranch and managed it. In June of 1994, the National Park Trust purchased the property and two years later it became the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The National Park Service, who manages the land, is not allowed to own more than 180 acres. However, in 2002, the National Park Trust donated 32 acres to the National Park Service which includes the primary landmarks including the house, barn, buildings and school. Most of the land was sold to The Nature Conservancy who works together with the National Park Service in preserving the landscape.
Plants and animalsEdit
- Main article: Plants at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
- Main article: Animals at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
In the 10,000+ acres of land, visitors will find a surplus of animal and plant species. Over 200 animal species not including insects have been recorded in the area, with an astounding 500 species of plants. Over ten years after the park opened, the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy cooperated with Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota in bringing over a herd of thirteen bison to the preserve. Years ago bison lived in the area but were wiped out, and so the NPS and TNC came up with a plan to reintroduce the species to the Flint Hills, making sure everything was perfect for the species. Along with the bison are hundreds upon hundreds of cattle. The National Park Service has explained to the public that the cattle will remain in the park and will not be replaced by the bison. In their words, "grazing with both bison and cattle assists prairie diversity, while giving opportunities to educate the public about the cultural history of the Flint Hills".
In order to maintain the park, the staff graze cattle and bison and use fire to "bring forth life on the prairie". Fire impacts almost all ecosystems in both positive and negative ways. However, for the tallgrass prairie, fire is immensely important to preserving the landscape and causing life to spring fourth from the ground. As years progress, leaves that fall on the ground build up, causing little sunlight to reach the ground below. Trees that grow on the plains cause even less sunlight to enter the area. In order to get rid of the trees and leaves that scatter the prairie, fires are started either by man or by other means (usually lightning). The fires immensely improve the prairie. The fire destroy the decaying leaves which is then used by plants. Following this, when sunlight reaches the ground the plants within the soil sprout fourth and prosper. The bison and cattle likewise benefit from this because they are no longer hindered by sorting through dead leaves and have access to the nutritious plants.
The climate of the park largely depends on the season, with harsh summers and winters, it is typically advised to go during the spring or the fall. Visitors are often confused when they enter the site expecting to see miles of 6 to 8 foot tall grass due to the name of the national park. In fact, the grass will grow to these heights in the fall, but only where there is a water source near by. Up high on the hills where there is no water source, the grass will typically grow to three feet high. Currently, the preserve does not allow camping at the park. Park rangers have explained that the park is currently discussing the possibility of changing this rule.
In May through October, the National Park Service offers one hour and thirty minute bus tours of the preserve. Originally the bus tours cost $5, but recently the tours became free of charge. The bus tours are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m., and require at least two passengers. Along with the bus tours are house tours at the ranch house, which are also free. From May to October, a ten minute video explaining Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is available at the barn, while it can be viewed at the house from November to April. A script of the video can be acquired by asking a park ranger or volunteer.
Most national parks contain miles upon miles of hiking trails for the benefit and enjoyment of the visitors, and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is no different. The hiking trails are open all year. The following are five of the major hiking trails:
- The Southwind Nature Trail: This 1 and 3/4th mile trail takes the visitor past the ranch house and up to the Lower Fox Creek School. On the way the hiker will go over a small creek via a wooden bridge.
- The Bottomland Trail - A small 3/4th (or shorter one half) trail through Fox Creek.
- Scenic Overlook Trail - A backcountry trail that is 6.4 miles round trip. The trail takes the hiker on the bus route over to the overlook area.
- 3 Pasture Loop Trail - A shorter 3.8 mile hike through the prairie that will take the hiker on ranch roads, going past cattle and bison.
- Red House Trail - A 6 mile hike through the natural drainage areas of the preserve.