2015 Symphony in the Flint Hills Location Announced

2014 Symphony in the Flint Hills

2014 Symphony in the Flint Hills

On June 13, 2015, the Symphony in the Flint Hills is coming home!

For the 10th anniversary of the event, it will be held at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

From the Symphony in the Flint Hills site:

We are thrilled to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Symphony in the Flint Hills Signature Event back where it all started at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve,” said Jim Hoy, Board Chair for Symphony in the Flint Hills, Inc. “Our milestone anniversary and this historic location lend themselves to help us further our mission of heightening appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie. We plan to take it a step further with the theme, ‘Grasslands of the World,’ and The Nature Conservancy as our partner for the education programs.”

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.


Senate declares 11/2 to be National Bison Day!

English: Bison bison. Original caption: "...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s National Bison Day! On October 30, 2013, the Senate passed a resolution that dedicates the first Saturday of November as National Bison Day.

The bison is the Kansas state animal, and there are a few trails that take you close to the mighty creatures that once roamed in the thousands upon thousands across the Kansas prairies.

Our favorite is at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. Read more about it here. Other opportunities to see them include Konza Prairie south of Manhattan, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in the heart of the Flint Hills, and Sandsage Bison Range near Garden City.

Top 3 trails that you’ve never heard of. . .

Part of the allure of hiking and biking in Kansas is the opportunity to get off the beaten path and explore all that the state has to offer. For the intrepid adventurer, here are three hidden gems that are worth venturing off the interstate to experience.

Allegawaho Memorial Park

Kanza Trail at Allegawaho Memorial Park

1. Allegawahoo Memorial Park – Council Grove
Rich in both history and scenery, this 2-mile trail west of Council Grove allows hikers to trek through a site that was occupied by the Kaw Indian Nation until 1872. The trail includes killer views along the upland ridges of the pristine Flint Hills tallgrass prairie, and historical sites including ruins of limestone cabins and the federal agency building for the reservation.

2. Agave Ridge Trail – Cedar Bluff Reservoir
You know that a trail is relatively unknown if the front desk staff at the state park office isn’t even familiar with it.  Despite the lack of publicity, we think that the Agave Ridge Trail is one of the top trails in the western part of the state.  The chalky white limestone bluffs and steep canyons throughout the trail provide a hiking or riding experience with sweeping views and some dramatic elevation changes.  The overall landscape is similar in some ways to the acclaimed Switchgrass Trail at Wilson Lake but with even more solitude (and wildflowers).

3. Camp Alexander – Emporia
The Flint Hills is the ultimate destination for many Kansas hikers and most people are familiar with the excellent hiking opportunities at Konza Prairie and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. For those wanting to venture out and explore more of the Flint Hills, we recommend the 5-miles of trails at Camp Alexander. Bikers will find a mix of terrain, with a few technical sections mixed in with some fast-riding singletrack routes.

These are a few of our favorite “hidden gems”, what trails have you enjoyed that have taken you on the road less traveled?

Hiking with bison

The chance to get up close and personal with large free-ranging bison is an unforgettable experience.  There are a few places to observe bison in Kansas; including the Sandsage Bison Range near Garden City, the Konza Prairie south of Manhattan, and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in the heart of the Flint Hills.  However, one of my all-time favorite locations to see these shaggy beasts is at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge just north of Canton.  Maxwell maintains a herd of around 200 bison and 50 elk, making this the only public area in the state where you can observe both of these species.  The really cool thing about Maxwell is that the access road for the state fishing lake runs right through the middle of the bison pasture.  A leisurely drive will easily give you the chance to see large bison bulls and cow/calf groups scattered throughout the mixed-grass prairie hills.

Bison grazing at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

Bison grazing at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

If you have binoculars, climb to the top of the wildlife observation tower which lets you look out over almost the entire area and really see the wildlife that’s out there.  We drove through the area last weekend and were lucky enough to see part of the elk herd and have several bison walk within 10-feet of our vehicle (which was about as close as we would have liked them to be).

This kind of a viewing experience would cause a traffic jam and photography frenzy at Yellowstone, but we virtually had the whole place to ourselves.  It’s easy enough to see bison and elk most days, but to see even more of the refuge and find out a little more about the natural history of the area you can also reserve a backcountry tram tour through the Friends of Maxwell Group website.

After checking out the wildlife we took the family on a little hike along the nature trail by the state fishing lake.  The woods were starting to show signs of spring with buds swelling and getting ready to burst at any time.  We didn’t see any morels, but saw several people out on the hunt.  The trail was a nice short hike through the woods by the lake with a loop option to add a little variety.  The highlight for the kids was definitely the stream at the end of the trail (and the trail snacks of course).  All said, it made for an afternoon of good hiking and great wildlife-viewing!