4/25/15 – Free entrance to Kansas State Parks!

Image from Kansas Tourism

That’s right, this Saturday 4/25/15, it’s free entrance to the grand state parks of Kansas!

The state parks have some of the best trails in the state – some of our favorites include Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail at Wilson State Park, Agave Ridge Nature Trail at Cedar Bluff State Park, Elk River Hiking Trail at Elk City State Park, and Hike, Bike, and Bridle Trail at Lake Scott State Park.

Plus, a lot of the visitor’s centers will be having activities and open houses from family-friendly exhibits and activities to guided hikes to 5K runs to fishing tournaments. Check out the events list here – there’s a great range of stuff for outdoor lovers of all ages.kick1

If you happen to go to Cedar Bluff State Park, Lovewell State Park, El Dorado State Park, Elk City State Park, or Perry State Park, give a big thanks to the volunteers out there helping keep the parks clean for the Earth Day Park Clean Up.

The weather forecast looks partly cloudy and warm for Saturday, so get out there and explore!

Beach House at Lake Scott open now through Memorial Day

Beach house photo from Friends of Lake Scott

On Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 6pm now until Memorial Day, you can visit the Beach House at Lake Scott State Park.

Out on the western plains of Kansas, Lake Scott was created in the late 1920s, and the Beach House is privately owned and not always open. The Spanish Revival architecture style building was constructed in the 1930s, and you can stop by to get food items, fishing equipment, bait, boat rentals and camping supplies.

There’s also indoor showers if you’ve taken a dip in the lake or to freshen up after the hike around the lake – one of our top 10 Kansas trails.

African-American History and its links to Kansas trails

February is Black History Month, and Kansas has connections to the Civil War and Civil Rights that also tie in with some of our state’s trails.

Bleeding Kansas

In the 1850s and early 1860s, Kansas Territory was in a series of skirmishes with neighboring Missouri. The battles were so intense, they earned the nickname Bleeding Kansas or Bloody Kansas. The focus of these fights was, primarily, slavery. A few months before the Civil War officially began (some say the first shots of the Civil War were at what is now Black Jack Battlefield), Kansas entered the Union as a free state. You can walk along trails through the historic Black Jack Battlefield – featured as a top history trail in our Kansas Trail Guide.

Nicodemus Visitor's Center. Photo by Mark Conard

Nicodemus Visitor’s Center. Photo by Mark Conard

Nicodemus

Kansas was the “promised land” for newly freed slaves, and the town of Nicodemus was created in 1877 as a refuge. It was the first black community west of the Mississippi. While the town’s population fell after the railroad didn’t make it a stop, the community still survives. You can take a self-guided tour of the National Historic Site where some of the original buildings still stand.  From the National Park Service:

The land on which Nicodemus and other black communities stood in Kansas was not the most advantageous for agriculture, and natural drought cycles frustrated efforts to raise crops. Even so, in the decades following the Civil War, this part of the West offered African Americans a chance at a life usually unobtainable in much of the South. The courage and spirit that motivated African Americans to leave their homes and move to the Midwest after the Civil War to places like Nicodemus also helped propel them toward equality of opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas roughly a century later.

The small town is less than a 15-minute drive from Webster State Park. The Coyote Trail in the park feature signs and interpretive information that can help you learn more about the flora and fauna of the area.

Brown v Board of Education

With Brown v Board of Education, racially segregated public schools became officially determined as unconstitutional. It was clearly a complicated time for race relations, as the Board of Education was pro-segregation, and a group of Topeka parents advocating for their children had to take the issue to the United States Supreme Court. You can visit the Brown v Board of Education site at 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, KS, 66612. This national historic site is free to visit, and it is in the location of the former all black Monroe school. Inside is a series of exhibits on the history of racism, segregation, education, and justice in the state and the country. And it’s the start of the Landon Nature Trail, a 38-mile rail trail that will connect the Shunga Trail in Topeka to the 117-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail.

The answer is…

Prairie Sunset Trail near Wichita. The Prairie Sunset Trail runs from Goddard to Garden Plain, with eventual plans to add another 4 miles to Wichita. The one-way trail between 295th Street W. and 167th Street W. can be taken in either direction. 

The covered bridge near the Garden Plain trailhead is a memorial for Cecile Kellenbarger, a cyclist and longtime trail volunteer.

It was dedicated on July 4, 2012, to commemorate her passion for the trails of Kansas.

 

Kansas’ top 10 trails: Which is your favorite?

June 7 is national trails day. In celebration and as a preview to part of the book, on schedule for publication next spring!, here are our top 10 trails in the state.

Which is your favorite Kansas trail? Let us know in the comments below!

Cedar Bluff State Park– Agave Ridge Nature Trail – Northwest

Elk City State Park – Elk River Hiking Trail – Southeast

Kanopolis Lake – Horsethief Canyon Trail – North central

Konza Prairie – Kings Creek Loop – North-Central

Shawnee Mission Park trails

Shawnee Mission Park trails

Lake Scott State Park – Hike, Bike, Bridle Trail – Southwest

Perry Lake – National Recreational Trail – Northeast

Prairie Spirit Trail and Southwind Rail Trail – Ottawa to Humboldt

Shawnee Mission Park – Orange, Violet, and Red Trails – Kansas City

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve – Scenic Overlook Trail – South-Central

Wilson Lake – Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail – North-Central

25th anniversary celebration for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas

25th anniversary celebration for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas

This Saturday, June 7, The Nature Conservancy marks its 25th year of working in Kansas. To celebrate, they’re hosting an anniversary event at Smoky Valley Ranch.

Cretaceous Formations

Cretaceous Formations

If you’ve never been to Smoky Valley Ranch, you should check it out. Yes, it’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere in western Kansas, but it has some of the coolest geologic formations in the state – its Cretaceous formations are unexpected and impressive out on the short grass prairie.

For the anniversary event: “The event’s activities include a driving tour that will feature how the Conservancy’s long-term management makes the ranch into a model of shortgrass prairie conservation. Tour participants will also discuss how the ranch has been a site for several research projects.

Other activities include a hike that will take visitors to scenic and diverse sites on the ranch and presentations about the history of the ranch, including the role of Native Americans and bison.”

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

Photo by J. Michael Lockhart/USFWS

At Smoky Valley Ranch, The Nature Conservancy in Kansas was instrumental in reintroducing the endangered black footed ferret back to Kansas. The organization also helps protect and care for the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, one of the world’s last swathes of tallgrass prairie, and for Cheyenne Bottoms, one of the state’s and arguably the country’s most important wetlands along the Central Flyway that’s used for migratory birds.

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas also helps give information and support to landowners who want to work on conservation issues to ensure the health and beauty of the state’s natural wonders.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Flint Hills culture is built on prairie grasses.  Too rocky to be tilled, the rugged limestone underlying the prairie soils spared the majority of this landscape from the homesteaders plow.  While the sodbusters moved on to more amenable locations, the ranchers established a stronghold in the Flint Hills.  The expansive cattle ranches throughout the area have effectively kept large contiguous tracts of tallgrass prairie intact to this day.   While much of the Flint Hills is in private hands, there’s no better place to experience the sublime beauty of the prairie than at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Strong City.  A multitude of hiking trails follow old ranch roads throughout the preserve, and the trails are open 24/7 affording opportunities for night hiking as well. Kids will enjoy hiking the Southwind Nature Trail to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse, a one-room country school, built in 1882 and still standing strong.

Ranch house

Stephen Jones Ranch House Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School Photo by Mark Conard

Lower Fox Creek School
Photo by Mark Conard

The schoolhouse is open for tours on Saturdays from 12-4 during May-June and September-October. Hard-core hikers will want to experience the expansive backcountry trails that start behind the historic stone barn, and we recommend the Scenic Overlook Trail or Crusher Hill Loop for spectacular views of wide-open prairie. Watch your step when crossing through Windmill Pasture as bison roam freely through this area and there have been recent reports of aggressive behavior. Front-country trails winding along Lower Fox Creek are sheltered from the wind and are a great spot to view a diverse assortment of wildlife.

If you’re able to visit this weekend (April 26th) there’s a special event “Let’s Experience the Great Outdoors” sponsored in partnership with Backwoods, which includes opportunities for volunteer service, kids activities, crafts, and demonstrations.  There are great hiking opportunities as part of the event and knowledgeable park rangers will lead a family-friendly hike along the Southwind Nature Trail (12:30 – 1:30), a longer nature hike into the backcountry (1:30 – 3:30) and even a special night hike from 9:00 – 10:00 PM.

After a day on the trail, take some time to experience the ranching culture of the Flint Hills,  which is still alive and strong in the nearby towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. The annual Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City will be held from June 5-7 and is the longest-running consecutive rodeo in Kansas.  Cottonwood Falls is also home to the legendary Emma Chase Cafe and Music Hall. The food is certainly good but the main attraction each Friday night is the acoustic jam session. Check out the full schedule of performers and get ready for some authentic music from the heart of the Flint Hills. It’s an experience like no other and has been named one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Customs” by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  Each Friday features a different genre, ranging from acoustic country, gospel, bluegrass, and old-fashioned rock-n-roll.

 

State Parks = Free this Saturday!

Plan on getting outdoors this Saturday, as all state parks will offer free admission and a variety of fun activities for visitors!  State parks are always one of the best deals for outdoor recreation, but you can’t beat free admission and activities available for all ages.

Get the party started with fishing derbies for the kids, prize drawings, fun runs, and even an Easter egg hunt at one of the parks.  If you’ve been waiting for spring to get started so that you can get back outside and savor the outdoor experience, there’s no better time than this Saturday to get back out and enjoy the parks.

At the Ottawa trailhead for the Prairie Spirit Trail

At the Ottawa trail head for the Prairie Spirit Trail

Some of the highlights include:

El Dorado State Park – Nature Photography Hike (10:00 a.m.)

Perry Lake – Guided horse trail rides (Wild Horse Campground 10:30 and 11:30 a.m.)

Ottawa Depot – Prairie Spirit Trail – Bike or hike on the trail and enjoy a free lunch!

Tuttle Creek State Park – Nature Bird Hike (9:00 – 11:00 Meet at the park office)

Check out the full schedule of events to find out what is going on at a park near you.