Christmas on the trail: 10 gifts for the trail lover in your life

While the north wind blows cold and snow blankets the trails for the season, it’s time to turn your thoughts towards finding the perfect gift for the next big adventure.

Here are our annual recommendations for 10 unique gifts that trail-lovers are sure to appreciate.

Garmin Oregon

Garmin Oregon

1. A gift membership to the Kansas Trails CouncilKansas Singletrack Society, or the Kansas Horse Council.  As the leading organizations devoted to building and maintaining trails throughout Kansas, each of these organizations provides a great opportunity to get involved and make a difference.

2. Garmin Oregon 650t – If you want a top-line GPS unit on the trail, this should be at the top of your wish list.  The GPS is highly accurate with a large display and touch screen that makes for easy navigation.  The built-in camera is a great feature that allows you to instantly geo-tag your photos.

3. Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide – The best of the botanical world at your fingertips, finally you can own a usable guide full of color photos that is specific to Kansas.

Leatherman Squirt4. Leatherman Squirt PS4 – Lightweight yet fully functional, the Squirt PS4 is packed with an assortment of useful tools.  On the trail the pliers are particularly handy to remove all of those stubborn thorns that may have embedded themselves in your bike tires.

5. Heartland Beef Jerky – Buy local with this savory jerky made in Kansas by Del and Jenny Wyman.  An impressive assortment of flavors to choose from (and you can’t go wrong with any of them!), like Siracha Teriyaki, Bacon, Orange Apricot, Cherry Maple, Caribbean Spice, Caribbean Black, and Chipotle.

Switchgrass earrings by Gayle Dowell

Switchgrass earrings
by Gayle Dowell

6. Gayle Dowell Jewelry – First spotted during a trip to the Manhattan Flint Hills Discovery Center, Gayle Dowell’s jewelry reflects the beauty of the prairie. With earrings, pendants, rings, and more, her jewelry has imprints of real prairie wildflowers and seeds in the metal.

7. Kansas State Parks Pass – An annual pass to the state parks of Kansas is one of the best deals going.  For less than $20, you can have an entire year of unlimited access to some of the best outdoor recreation in the state.

8. 8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook – After getting off the trail, this book is the perfect guide to appreciating and experiencing the most awe-inspiring parts of Kansas.  Written by a true expert on the Sunflower State, this guide is an invaluable part of every explorers library.

Buff9. Original Buff – A bandana has infinite uses on the trail.  This is even better.  Sun-protection, clean-up duty, neck warmer, or even make-shift potholder, do everything in style with this Buff from REI.

10. Go Pro Camera – Document your greatest exploits on the trail in high resolution and vivid clarity. Easy to attach whether you’re on foot, on a bike, or on a horse, it’s easy to use and makes it easy to share your adventures.

Gunn Park Trails: Interview with Frank Halsey

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.

In Gunn Park in Fort Scott, down by the river, you can find a well-maintained mountain bike trails. I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet with the trail designers while I was mapping out the trail for the upcoming book. Frank Halsey worked hard to develop these trails, starting without permission, but carrying on. He opens up here about what it was like to create, from nothing, an entire set of trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What inspired you to create the trails?

Halsey: My brother-in-law sent me an email video of some downhill riders flying through the woods and it looked like fun.

Kansas Trail Guide: How long did they take to build?
Halsey: It took me a couple of months to build the first mile or so, and we’ve been working on the other three to four miles for a couple of years. Maintenance takes up a lot of time that we could be building more trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: When did the process begin – the planning stages?

On the trails at Gunn Park

On the trails at Gunn Park

Halsey: I actually started building in the fall of 2009 without much planning or even permission.  The city made me stop for all of 2010 while they did their due diligence.

During this time I worked on maintaining the original mile loop, and scoped out other areas of timber in the park.  In the spring of 2011 the city granted permission to proceed, and a few great volunteers got involved.

We built about 2 ½ miles during the spring and summer of 2011, and then another mile or so in the spring of 2012.  Because of ongoing maintenance, there really hasn’t been much opportunity to build the additional two miles that we have planned.

Kansas Trail Guide: Do you have a favorite part of the trail?

Halsey: I actually have a couple favorite sections of trail.  The “North Ridge Ride” was our first attempt at building on the side of a hill.  It’s downhill and only slightly tricky, but fun.  The “River Ride” is cool because it runs right next to the river and has some fun rolling runs, and finally the “West River Ridge” because we initially didn’t think it could be done.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are some factors about trail building and maintenance that people should realize?

Halsey: I love it, but it’s a big commitment!  Much more than I ever imagined.  My wife (she’s an angel) is really the only person that truly understands how much time I spend on the trails.  Gunn Park is practically in my back yard, so for me it’s close by, relaxing, therapeutic, most of the time spontaneous, so I tend to lose track of how long I’m down there.  Probably like gardening for somebody that likes gardening. I spend a lot of time, by myself, maintaining and improving what we have.  Kind of like weeding a big garden.

We had a tremendous group of volunteers help build the trails initially.  Sadly, volunteers wear out after a while, and they don’t share the same passion.  We try to have regular work sessions but only a couple of us show up.  I get that, many of them still have kids activities, and other hobbies, I don’t.  This has become my hobby.  My golf game is suffering, but that’s OK, this is better for me.

A lot of people think I’m just plain nuts, but what they fail to realize is the sanity I gain from the simply being out in the woods and creating something.  I get a lot more credit than I deserve, because really I’m selfishly doing this for me.  That others can take advantage is just a bonus.  However, whenever I see anybody else on the trails, riding, jogging or hiking, it gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.

Probably what I would caution others about is the “volunteers wear out” part.  The city does not have the resources to maintain what we’ve built and likely never will.  I have a couple of guys I can expect to show up 50% of the time.  Other than that, people have other commitments.  So, if planning to build trails, be careful what you ask for, you might get it.  Also, if building next to a river that floods occasionally, be prepared for lots of cleanup time.

Kansas trails you can’t access with the government shutdown

We’re not here to get into politics, but we want to keep Kansas trail lovers updated on the current situation as to how it applies to them. Most of the trails in Kansas are on state, city, or private property, but there are some federally controlled sites.

So while the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism is state-run and the state parks are open for business during the government shutdown, there are a few places in the state that you can’t get to right now.

A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flying into the sunset. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cimarron National Grassland
Two major trails pass through the Cimarron National Grassland, a region reclaimed by the government after the disastrous Dust Bowl years: the Turkey Trail and the Companion Trail, so named because it runs parallel to or occasionally on the path of the historic Santa Fe Trail.Both trails will be included in the upcoming book and the region will be one of our top historic trails.

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
While the birds pay no mind to government shutdowns and are flying through the area on the fall migration, the shorter, family trails in the refuge are not currently open. This region will be included in the book as one of our top wildlife/wildflower trails.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
A total of 41 miles of hiking trails cross one of the nation’s only remaining stretches of original, native tallgrass prairie. A few of the best of the trails will be mapped out in our book as featured trails, and all additional trails will be mentioned.

Paola Inn & Suites

About 20-30 minutes south of Kansas City and 15 minutes southeast of Hillsdale State Park and its miles of horse and walking trails and about 40 minutes northwest from La Cygne Lake with its winding horse trails is the city of Paola.

Tired from hiking for hours and occasionally getting lost in the winding trails of Hillsdale Lake (won’t be a problem for you with the guidebook!), I pulled into the Paola Inn & Suites, and to my surprise, I got a Jacuzzi Suite room. It means exactly what you think it does from the name – it features a large spa bathtub. For someone who’s been on the trail all day, it’s about as good as it gets.

Jacuzzi Suite

Jacuzzi Suite

That’s not the only option for rooms. They have standard double queen rooms up to king suites with a separate living area with a fold out couch, seems like the best option for families or groups traveling together. They also have handicap accessible options with walk-in showers and handrails in the bathrooms.

Paola has a couple of bed and breakfasts, but this is the one full service hotel. All the 39 rooms (not just the ones with giant bathtubs) in the 3-story hotel have a microwave, mini-refrigerators, an iron and ironing board, and free WiFi. And in the morning, there’s a full, free! continental breakfast spread. During the summer, you can enjoy a dip in the pool outside, and if the trails nearby weren’t enough of a workout, there’s an exercise room at the hotel.

It’s on the east side of town, just off the Highway 169/7. It’s listed as two-star, and I stayed in some not so nice two-star hotels over the summer working on the book, but this is definitely one of the good ones! It’s clean, the beds are comfortable, and the staff seemed genuinely happy to help.

If you go:
Rooms from $107

1600 Hedge Lane Court
Paola, KS 66071
913-294-3700 or 877-402-3700

Hikes in Hutchinson

The State Fair may be over for another year, but there’s still plenty to do in Hutchinson. After a tour of the Salt Museum or the Cosmosphere, you can check out the nearby trails.

Martinez Trail

While this won’t be mapped and included in our trail guide since it’s primarily paved, the 3 mile trail winds around Carey Park and past the Hutchinson Zoo. The trail also connects Rice Park and Carey Park with a 3 mile section close to Cow Creek. It’s a smooth, easy ride with several access points along the way. All the parks and the trail are free entry with no cost for parking.

Dillon Nature Center

The area (3002 E. 30th Street) was originally owned by the Dillon Stores company which maintained the area as a private recreation spot for employees before donating the land to the city of Hutchinson. The beauty of the Dillon Nature Center can best be experienced by a leisurely stroll along the well maintained set of hiking trails that include several short family-friendly loops.

The pond at Dillon Nature Center

The pond at Dillon Nature Center

To learn more about the history of the area, check out the Discovery Center with its interactive exhibits. It also has an observation deck and picture windows overlooking the pond, which is stocked for fishing.

The trails encircle the spring-fed pond at the heart of the nature center where painted turtles bask lazily along submerged logs.  In late spring, there are an amazing profusion of colorful blooms in extensive beds of annual flowers planted throughout the area.

The nature center has been designated a National Urban Wildlife Sanctuary and the multitude of blooming flowers attracts a diverse array of pollinators including a variety of butterflies.  The Jim Smith Family Playscape is a safe, fun place for children of all ages to explore the natural world through play.

Sand Hills State Park

Northeast of Hutchinson, this 1,123 acre state park has several trail options available. The formerly active and shifting dunes of open sand have been stabilized by the roots of big sandreed, sand bluestem, and sand dropseed that are a core component of a unique assemblage of plants within the sand prairie landscape of this region.  The dunes themselves rise to heights of up to 40-feet and provide considerable topographic variation to an otherwise flat landscape.

The park includes eight interconnected trails ranging in length from 1-4 miles with a total of 14 miles of hiking and biking trail within the park.  To navigate the network of mowed trails throughout the park, it helps to keep an eye on the brown carsonite trail markers that provide a color-coded marker for each separate trail route.

This is one of the few state parks in Kansas that is not associated with a reservoir, and the trails weaving amidst the dunes are the main attraction.  The entire area is maintained in a natural state and there are no developed roads within the park itself.  All trails are accessible from parking lots located along 56th Avenue on the south border and 69th Avenue on the north border of the park.  Permits must be purchased from the self-pay stations located at each park entrance for parking at trailheads and no overnight camping is allowed.

 

Smoky Valley Ranch Long Loop | Garmin Adventures

One of the cool features about Garmin is that with their BaseCamp software, you can check out other trails and create “adventures” from the trails you’ve been on that include the photos taken with the GPS and all the waypoints. Publishing the adventure through BaseCamp means that others can download it and use the information.

Below is an example of the adventures – our trip through the shortgrass prairie and Cretaceous chalk formations at Smoky Valley Ranch: the answer to last week’s “Do you know where this is?“. It’s also a kind of preview for the book. We’ll be including detailed maps, made with Garmin GPS devices, that include important waypoints along the trail. What’s missing in the adventure that you’ll get in the book is the description of the area and the trail itself, but the map gets you halfway there.

Check it out and let us know what you think.

Smoky Valley Ranch Long Loop | Garmin Adventures.

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?

Kansas Rail Trails: Interview with Clark Coan

Rail Trails of Kansas

In the 1960s and 1970s, railroad tracks were abandoned across the country, and now, long stretches of former rail tracks have been, or will be, turned into trails.

And in Kansas, the rail-trail conversion and creation process has resulted in over 100 miles of usable trail throughout the state with 100+ either in the concept or project stage. See above for a map of the current and proposed trails.

The longest trail in the state will be the 117 mile Flint Hills Nature Trail, and with a $2.4 million grant, by 2014, it should be completed between Osawatomie to Herington. It will also connect up to the completed and open Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa, which runs between Ottawa to Iola and connects to the Southwind Rail Trail, which runs between Iola to Humboldt.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail also links up with the 300+ mile Katy Trail in Missouri via the Indian Creek Streamway Trail and Blue River Trail in the Kansas City area.

Making these trails is a huge undertaking. Planning out the location and getting funding, clearing brush and installing crushed limestone, then maintaining the trail – it’s a big job, and the work is primarily volunteer. One non-profit converting these former railways into trails for foot, bike, and horse traffic, is the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy.

Prairie Spirit Trail

On the Prairie Spirit Trail

Former Director of Development at Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, Clark Coan agreed to answer a few of our questions about the Kansas rail-trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: When did the rail to trail conversion start in Kansas?

Clark: The Rails-to-Trails Coalition of Kansas began working on railbanking the Landon Trail in 1987.

Kansas Trail Guide: How many volunteer hours does it take to create a rail-trail?

Clark: It depends upon the length of the trail. The longer the trail, the longer it takes. Funding is the main thing which slows up development. Generally, it takes 1,000s of volunteer hours to complete a trail.

Kansas Trail Guide: Is there a trail or part of a trail that’s a personal favorite to walk or ride?

Clark: I guess my favorite right now is riding the Flint Hills Nature Trail from Rantoul to Osawatomie. It has a tree canopy and goes along bluffs towering above the Marias Des Cygnes River.

Kansas Trail Guide: Is there anything that most people don’t realize about the rails-to-trails program in Kansas that they should know about?

Clark: Many Kansans don’t know they exist but they are gradually being discovered. They allow Kansans to have adventures close to home.

Kansas Trail Guide: What is the historical significance of the rail-trails?

Clark: The railroads helped open up the West to settlement. Towns sprung up along railroads and settlers rode the trains to their new homes. The rail lines generally followed historical trails such as the Santa Fe Trail which typically followed Indian trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What do you feel is the impact of the rail trails on Kansas tourism?

Clark: Tourism from rail-trails can help small towns survive. Trail users need food, gas, lodging and souvenirs. The boost to a small town’s economy may help it stay alive.

Crooked Knee Horse Trail at Melvern Lake

Today on the schedule for trails was the Orange Loop of the Crooked Knee Horse Trail, and it couldn’t have been a better day for it. Temperatures didn’t get over the mid-80’s, and there was a slight breeze. The trailhead is at the Eisenhower State Park on the north side of Melvern Lake, and it’s maintained well, has good signs, and since much of it is exposed, it has some great views out over the prairie, and some pretty beautiful wildflowers. Here are some of the photos I got along the trail:

Interview with Roger of Tailwind Cyclists in Pittsburg

The rolling hills of southeastern Kansas around Pittsburg are perfect for mountain bike trails. I checked in by email with Roger Lomshek, owner of Tailwind Cyclists, which has you covered for all your cycling & outdoor needs, for his recommendations and thoughts on the Pittsburg area trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are the best trails in the Pittsburg area for mountain bikers and why?

Roger: We have three trails that offer a mix of flavors for riders.

The 23rd Street Bike Park is in the middle of town 6 blocks east of Broadway on 23rd ST! The bike park has a mix of roller coaster twisty singletrack with lots of short steep 10 foot tall hills. It also has a dirt jumping track with plans to add a trials riding area and pump track. While some areas are beyond the beginner rider there is almost always an easy detour and you’re never more than a half mile from the road.

One of the features at the 23rd Street Bike Park in Pittsburg

One of the features at the 23rd Street Bike Park in Pittsburg

Wilderness Park is at the far north edge of Pittsburg 1/2 mile west of Hwy 69 on McKay ST. The front half has gravel bike & walking paths that are great for beginner riders and families while the back half is a tangle of singletrack trails in heavily wooded hills.

Farlington Lake (Crawford State Park) is 10 miles north of Girard, KS on Hwy 7 (25 miles northwest from Pittsburg). A paved 6 mile road circles the lake while a nearly 8 mile singletrack trail rolls through the woodland around the lake. The singletrack trail has some very difficult sections and overall I would list it as an intermediate trail that is not for beginners.

Kansas Trail Guide: How many volunteer hours does it take to maintain the trails and how many trails does your shop take care of?

Roger: Tailwind Cyclists and our crew of volunteer trail workers maintains all 3 trail networks in our area totaling about 15 miles of trails. We usually devote at least a weekend every other month to trail maintenance and sometimes smaller half day sessions as needed.

Kansas Trail Guide: Are there areas for beginners and experts?

Roger: All three trails offer challenges for expert riders while the 23rd Street Bike Park and Wilderness Park have some beginner friendly portions.

Kansas Trail Guide: Are there any organized trail rides?

Roger: Tailwind Cyclists hosts a Thursday night mountain bike ride that leaves the shop at 6:30 PM during daylight savings time. We also do occasional road trips to further away trails on weekends. Call the shop at 620-231-2212 for details.

Kansas Trail Guide: What gear can people purchase at your shop?

Roger: We sell a wide variety of cycling accessories plus the bikes themselves and can get camping and outdoor gear as well.

Kansas Trail Guide: What do you think makes the Pittsburg area special for mountain bikers?

Roger: The people who ride! We have a great group of riders that make every trail ride fun.