Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park Coming Soon! Interview with Nature Conservancy

We reached out to The Nature Conservancy with some questions about their work to make Little Jerusalem into a protected Kansas park, and here’s what they had to say.

KTG: What’s the latest status of the Little Jerusalem land?

Nature Conservancy: Little Jerusalem is not yet open to the public. In May, legislation to designate the property as the Little Jerusalem Badland State Park passed both chambers and was signed by the governor. The Nature Conservancy will continue to own the property and establish long-term agreement with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) to manage outdoor recreational opportunities in a manner that protects the fragile rocks. As the landowner, The Nature Conservancy will continue to pay local property taxes and maintain management oversight.

We are currently working closely with KDWPT, engineers and educators to develop a public access plan for this unique landscape. The exact nature of all access is yet to be determined but we are still hopeful that the public will be able to enjoy Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park in the coming year.

Why do you think people are drawn to this area?

The Nature Conservancy’s western Kansas conservation manager explains this best with a story about his four-year-old daughter Josie.

“We had pulled up to a big old pasture not much different than the places I had been lucky to explore as a kid near our farm in western Ness County. It was an impressive, vast, intact place, but it was on the edge of a wind farm and had a single turbine visible from where we were parked. I asked her if she thought the place looked wild, if it would be worth exploring. She simply said, ‘Well it’s not wild, Dad, there’s a big white windmill in it.’ And then I asked her if she’d want to go with me and explore it and her answer was, “Nope, somebody already has.” What this tells me is that there is a very innate part of us with a sense of wonder and exploration, and that part of us appreciates wild places. I suspect appreciation for nature as it was created is left in just about all of us. For me, at a very basic level, that is what The Nature Conservancy is doing: preserving those places and that sense of wonder, so that future generations will someday experience a wild place. And they are doing it right here, in this part of the state that we call home.”

Will it be open to the public with trails and if so, do you know when, or what the trails might consist of (length, access to hikers/bikers/horse)?

The exact nature of all access is yet to be determined, but it will designed to have as little impact to the rocks as possible.

What makes the area so special and/or of interest to The Nature Conservancy?

Beyond the impressive scenic views, Little Jerusalem provides a unique opportunity to connect people to the wonders of the prairie. These rocks serve as important nesting habitat for ferruginous hawks, cliff swallows, rock wrens and other native wildlife. The property is home to the single largest population of Great Plains wild buckwheat, a plant found in the chalk bluffs prairie of western Kansas and nowhere else in the world.

In addition to modern wildlife, these badlands contain 85-million-year-old fossils of swimming and flying reptiles. The Nature Conservancy’s chief purposes for the site are to, first, protect the pristine natural features and, second, provide access for people to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

What’s the goal of The Nature Conservancy’s work in western Kansas?

Native grasslands are among the most destroyed and least protected ecosystems on Earth. It is estimated that only 3%or fewer of the grasslands that formerly covered the Central Great

Plains are intact. Ongoing encroachment of cropland conversion, energy development, urban sprawl, invasive species, and subdivision continue to degrade and threaten the ecological health of the central Great Plains.

In western Kansas, at least 80% of the native prairie has been converted to some other use. Demonstrating that healthy wildlife populations and successful ranching operations go hand-in-hand is critical to retaining the 20% of the prairie that’s left. Smoky Valley Ranch supports tremendous plant and wildlife diversity while continuing its long history as a working cattle ranch.

The Nature Conservancy manages the 17,290-acre Smoky Valley Ranch as model to demonstrate that healthy ecosystems and profitable agricultural land use can coexist. The Conservancy then works with other landowners in the region to promote land management practices like moderate cattle stocking rates, rotational grazing, and developing drought contingency plans so that conservation can be affected beyond the ranch.

Will the proposed state park plans also include the Smoky Valley Ranch land?

No. The remainder of Smoky Valley Ranch will remain a private, working cattle ranch with visitor access limited to the hiking trails on the western boundary.

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