Along with individual species, ecosystems themselves can be at risk. One of the rarest is the prairie in Kansas.
Once it spread over 170 million acres from north into present day Canada and south into Texas and east of the Mississippi to the Rockies. 1% of that prairie is left, much of the tallgrass prairie is in the Flint Hills, since it was too rocky to plow under, it was protected.
It’s a uniquely North American ecosystem, and from the shortgrass prairie closer to the western edge of the state to the tallgrass prairie in the eastern edge, the prairie is home to dozens of types of grasses, hundreds of types of flowers, and these grasses once fed hundreds upon hundreds of bison, antelope, and deer.
Fire helps form the prairie by burning out the woodier vegetation, and burns were started naturally by lightning or by Native Americans. Today, conservationists still work to preserve the prairie by burning it.
One of the success stories of prairie conservation is the Kansas tallgrass prairie. 80% of the world’s remaining tallgrass prairie land is in Kansas, and the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance brings together private landowners, government agencies, and conservationists to help learn more about, protect, and expand the resource that is the prairie ecosystem.
For more information on the tallgrass prairie, visit the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. To check out the shortgrass prairie, visit Smoky Valley Ranch or Cimarron National Grassland in western Kansas.
Or consider making your yard into a prairie. It takes less water and it provides the natural beauty of swaying grasses and wildflowers.
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.”
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.
This schoolhouse is on Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve. Tallgrass prairie used to cover hundreds of millions of acres of land across the country. 4% of this unique and dynamic ecosystem remains, and much of that is in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve has a bison herd, a series of trails, and of course, the Lower Fox Creek School.
The Lower Fox Creek School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 6, 1974. Made of local limestone, this one room schoolhouse saw its first class in the fall of 1884.
It was a “common school” – designed by Horace Mann, the schools were free, which meant families who hadn’t been able to afford school previously were able to get education for their children.
If you would like to check it out, it’s open weekends (Saturday and Sunday) from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. in May, June, September, and October.
And for some fun, check out the rules for teachers (women must not loiter in town ice cream stores and men must not get shaved in a barber shop) and an 8th grade equivalency test that would have been taken at a school like this: School Rules and Tests.