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.

Vote now for 2018’s Kansas Trail Destination of the Year

It’s that time again, time to vote for your favorite Kansas trail destination.  The inaugural winner of the award was Iola. Whichever location gets the most votes will be honored as our Top Trail Destination of the Year 2018, and we’ll be sending a free copy of our book to the winning town’s public library

We selected our finalists based on their plans to expand trails as well as their commitment to building and maintaining trails in the Sunflower State. Here’s a bit about them.

Bluffs at Lake Scott State Park

Scott City / Little Jerusalem.  In addition to serving as the gateway to the outstanding trail system at Lake Scott State Park, Scott City will be the destination for travelers heading to explore the newly opened Little Jerusalum area.

Later this year, there will be trails open and available at the well-known, but not previously (legally) accessible chalk formations. Having a maintained trail system there is designed to help protect the area and the formations themselves.

Marysville. The Oregon Trail crossed near Marysville and more recently the Blue River Rail Trail (with the beautiful covered bridges) has expanded north to the Nebraska state line through the diligent work of Marshall County Connection.

The next step is working to extend the rail-trail south further into Marysville to increase accessibility.

Wyandotte County. The county has started its 20/20/20 movement — Expanding bike routes, trails, and safe sidewalks, 20 miles of each (if not more) by 2020. They also have a both hiking and equestrian trails already in place at Wyandotte County Lake.

Flint Hills Nature Trail. The Flint Hills Nature Trail has been a work in progress for many years, but the grand vision of the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy is finally coming close to fruition.  The FHNT has been supported by many towns along the way, but this year we are highlighting Council Grove.  From the old Santa Fe Trail to the current Flint Hills Natural Trail, Council Grove has been the original Kansas trail town since 1825.

Vote for your favorite destination! If it’s not in the list, let us know in the comments below.

Vote for the Kansas Top Trail Town 2017

In honor of the upcoming National Trails Day (June 3), we’re hoping to find out which Kansas town / city you think is the best one for trails.

Whichever location gets the most votes will be honored as our Top Trail  Town of the Year 2017, and we’ll be sending a free copy of our book to the winning town’s public library.

We’ve included in our poll the places that are expanding their trail system, have embraced the local trails, and embody the spirit of adventure on the plains.

  • Iola has the Thrive Allen County campaign as well as being the trailhead for the Prairie Spirit Trail, Southwind Rail Trail, and the Lehigh Portland Trails among others.
  • Marysville combines the old and new trails of Kansas. It’s home to the recently completed Blue River Rail Trail that extends into Nebraska as well as the Pony Express Trail and Oregon Trail. The Kansas Sampler Foundation named it the Trails Capital of Kansas.
  • Topeka is the trailhead for the Landon Nature Trail, which starts at the historic site of Brown v Board of Education, it has the only set of trails outside of a Governor’s Mansion, and it’s an access point for the Kansas River Trail.
  • Lawrence is another stop on the Kansas River Trail, and it has a plethora of well-loved and well-maintained trails including the KU Field Station, Clinton Lake, and the nearby recently restore and expanded Baker Wetlands.

Did we leave one out? Let us know and let us hear your vote!

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

Trail Profile: South Mound Trails

“And when in the great future of the matchless State, farm shall be added to farm, and town to town, and the great cities of the future shall have come, the mounds shall still stand and still keep silent watch over the noble landscape forever beneath their feet.” -William G. Cutler 1883

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View from South Mound

One of the most striking natural landmarks in Wilson County are the Twin Mounds which rise up to an elevation of over 1,000 feet to tower over the surrounding plains.  Noted by William G. Cutler in his 1883 “History of Kansas”, early hikers were said to take a “well-worn path” to the summit and upon reaching the pinnacle can see “unrolled before him one of the finest sights of the new world. Southward runs the somber timber lines which mark the course of Fall River. Westward lies the second mound and between the fertile fields to the far north can be seen the fringe of the Verdigris”

The mounds still keep watch over Fredonia and present a sweeping view of the Fall River valley. The South Mound is now graced by a picnic area, playground, observation tower, and what appears to be the largest American flag west of the Verdigris. Through the work of the Kansas Trails Council and the Cultivate Fredonia Healthy Living Action Team, the South Mound also regained a short trail network that allows hiker and bikers to explore the rocky wooded areas along the rim and steep slopes of the mound.

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Flag & playground on the South Mound

In a patriotic spirit, the trail network is christened the “Old Glory Trail” and trail segments include the 0.34 mile Liberty Trail which traverses the rim of the mound, and a slightly longer loop trail lower on the hillside known as the Freedom Trail.  Both trails have a natural surface and the upper trail offers sweeping views off the side of the mound and some fun rocks and boulders for a little off-trail scrambling. Check out the map below for the trail location and route options.

Interview with Maggie, the winner of our Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge

We put out our Flint Hills Nature Trail Challenge, and this September, Maggie and Carrie were the first to complete it! It was actually our original challenge post that inspired their trip, which is a pretty big honor!

All photos by Maggie.

We reached out to Maggie to find out more about her trip, and here’s what we learned:

What was it that inspired you to hike the Flint Hills Nature Trail?

My research inspired me to hike the FHNT.  It begins in the early spring, my obsessive need to find that perfect off the beaten path trail.  By late summer/early fall I’m all set and embarking on my new journey.

I must admit though, the challenge posted for this particular trail peaked my interest.   There are not many firsts in life, snatch them up while you can!

Did you have a favorite part along the way?

It’s hard to chose a favorite part of the FHNT.  Every section is so diverse in its beauty.  From the deep shaded forest to the picturesque prairie and all the fresh farmland in between.  It makes it impossible to pick just one.

Were there any parts that needed to be worked on in terms of building?14333639_10154485147534547_2785065765529463476_n

There were some underdeveloped sections of the trail, but even those held breathtaking beauty.

I feel that the trail council, friends of the trail and all the volunteers are doing a great job maintaining and developing the trail.  It takes time and money, but it will just keep getting better!

We’ve had a lot of people ask us at our readings about camping along the trail. Where were you able to spend the night while you were on the trail?

Camping along the trail is prohibited.  I’m not sure if that rule will eventually change with development,  but I believe trail shelters would be a major improvement. (**Side note – we agree!**) That way you could still be in control of where trail users camped, but give the hikers especially a more realistic day and mileage to cover in between.

As it stands now, anyone thru hiking this trail will have to plan accordingly to make their miles in between public campgrounds.  It doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for mother nature, failed gear, accidents or just exhaustion.

Who would you recommend try the FHNT?

I would recommend the FHNT to anyone.  This trail quickly made my top ten and is perfect for beginners and veterans alike.14237628_10154473083099547_2977704645742298232_n

How long did it take start to finish?

It took Carrie and I nine days to thru hike this trail.  We had quite a time locating trailheads and safe parking that first day, putting us off to a late afternoon start and only gaining 8 miles.  We walked off the trail in Herington the following Thursday around six in the evening,  and headed straight to Subway!

Any hazards along the trail?

We didn’t encounter any hazards along this trail that aren’t the norm on any trail.  The usual down trees, rickety bridges on the list for repairs, and wildlife with the occasional predator.

Any advice to those who want to try thru-hiking the FHNT?

My advice to anyone wanting to thru hike the FHNT would be do your research and make a plan.  This trail is unique with its no camping on the trail rule.  This will make your hike even more challenging and add some side miles.

GPS will become your best friend, for many miles of the trail are not marked, especially near towns.

However, the rewards of this trail definitely outweigh the obstacles.

Run or bike the first ever Bridge to Bridge event 9/17/16

The first ever Tour de Trails 5k will be this Saturday — 9/17/16. Hosted by the Central Kansas Conservancy, the race will be held start north of the railroad bridge on the Valkommen trail in Lindsborg and then moves onto the Meadowlark Trail.

The Meadowlark Trail, on the former Union Pacific railroad corridor, stretches 13 miles from McPherson to Lindsborg, though you won’t have to go the full length for this race.

There’s a 5k for runners as well as a 5k for cyclists. Here’s the schedule:

9:00 – 9:45 – Registration/Packet Pick up

10:00 – Bike Event Starts

10:10 – Runners/Walkers Event Starts

11:00-12:00 – Finish Line Festivities Enjoy Refreshments and Give-a-Ways!

Registration is $15 and you can sign up here.