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.

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.

135th Anniversary of the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork

Cave in Battle Canyon. Photo by Mark Conard.

Cave in Battle Canyon. Photo by Mark Conard.

It’s been 135 years since the Northern Cheyenne and the US Cavalry were both at Punished Woman’s Fork, and this weekend, both will be back.

It was on September 27, 1878, the Northern Cheyenne, on their way back to their homeland, fought their last battle with the US Army in Kansas, a mile south of present day Scott City and Lake Scott State Park along Highway 95. In honor of that historic event, El Quartelejo Museum and Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection are hosting the 135th Battle Canyon Symposium on September 27 and 28, 2013.

For a national historic site, it’s surprisingly unchanged from what it would have been like 135 years ago. That’s part of the beauty of the western prairie. Much has remained unchanged, and the rolling hills and canyons that were the site of such history and bloodshed remain steadfast, silent witnesses to a story that has often been overlooked.

Events

Dedication from 4:00 to 5:30pm on Friday 9/27 at Punished Woman’s Fork National Historic Site. It was at 4:00pm on September 27 that the fighting began at the site.

Following the dedication and at the El Quartelejo Ruins Monument Site in Lake Scott State Park: native song and dance performance by the Northern Cheyenne and a 4th US Cavalry exhibition from 6 to 8:30pm.

Saturday is the big day with the Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection at El Quartalejo Museum hosting the speakers, including Northern Cheyenne leaders, descendants from the Cheyenne chiefs, and historians.

History

Sent to a Southern Cheyenne Reservation in Oklahoma in 1877, the Northern Cheyenne had little food and there was a measles outbreak, and there was little hope of survival. Dull Knife and Little Wolf, Cheyenne chiefs, took matters into their own hands, and the night of September 9, 1878, with the fires left burning, they led over 300 Cheyenne off the reservation. They were headed back to Yellowstone Country, 1500 miles away.

Rifle pit

Rifle pit. Photo by Mark Conard

By September 13, 1878, troops had found them, and surrender was offered as an option. Dull Knife refused to go back to the reservation, and Cheyenne and army troops began fighting.

A cat and mouse game continued through the next week with the Cheyenne trying to get away and fighting back until they reached “Punished Woman’s Fork” on September 25, 1878.

This was to be the place of their last stand, and it was chosen specifically. The remote canyon had a natural cave at one end where women, children, and the elderly could take shelter, and along the hills and bluffs, rifle pits could be dug to provide cover for the Cheyenne fighters. The US soldiers could be lured into the canyon (now known as Battle Canyon) and ambushed with the landscape acting as an additional weapon for the Cheyenne.

One of the fighters described the incoming soldiers: “A great angry snake of whites come against us in the morning.”

September 27, 1878, those not fighting took shelter in the cave, and the battle began. The Cheyenne ended up backed into Battle Canyon, but they drove the army back and took out Lt. Col. Lewis, Commander of Ford Dodge, Kansas, who’d once said “I will run the Cheyenne to ground or leave my body on the prairie.” He did the latter.

The night of September 27, the US army pulled back to camp, and the Cheyenne again made their escape in the night with their fires left burning and continued heading north.

Nearby trails

The trail around the perimeter of Lake Scott State Park will be one of our top 10 trails in the guidebook. Easy to follow, it’s got some incredible views out over the lake and of the nearby cliffs.

Kansas State Fair Turns 100!

2013 is the 100th year of the Kansas State Fair. This year’s extravaganza takes place from September 6 – 15. The mission of the fair is: “To promote and showcase Kansas agriculture, industry and culture, to create opportunity for commercial activity, and to provide an educational and entertaining experience that is the pride of all Kansans.” We’re hoping that in 2014, we’ll be a part of the fair activities with more detailed information on the book and (hopefully) the chance to preorder, and by 2015, you’ll be able to leave the fair with a copy of our book in hand!

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism will have an aquarium exhibit at the fair, north of the expo center near gate 9. The 400-foot long aquarium will be stocked with fish from around Kansas.

Along with carnival rides, arts & crafts, and livestock, the fair always has an amazing selection of fried foods (cookie dough, peaches, Kool-Aid – all can be deep fried). Let us know in the comments what your favorite fair foods are!

To help you get in the spirit, here are some photos from fairs past. All photos by Mark Conard.

Favorite fair food? Let us know in the comments below! Me? I’m partial to the classics: turkey leg and funnel cake.

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:

Your opinion wanted on the Kansas parks

Sundown - February 24, 2010 - Kansas City

Sundown – February 24, 2010 – Kansas City (Photo credit: CoolValley)


The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism is looking for your input on Kansas parks. If you go to http://ksoutdoorrecreation.blogspot.com/, they’re looking for specific comments and there’s also a survey that you can complete.

Four topics will be covered:
  • June 21- July 4 TOPIC:  Which outdoor recreation facilities are most in need of renovation or replacement at state and federal parks in Kansas to best enhance outdoor recreation experiences?  Specific examples are welcomed.
  • July 5 – July 18. TOPIC:  Share a story of a meaningful outdoor recreation experience that you or your family had in Kansas and how the site where that experience took place contributed.
  • July 19 – Aug 1. TOPIC:  Which of the following local outdoor recreation experiences would you like most to be within walking distance of your home (if you live in town)?   Trails/picnic areas/sports venues/natural areas/playgrounds
  • Aug 2 – Aug 15 TOPIC:  Improved access to natural outdoor experiences, particularly those water based, is important for urban dwellers.  Please provide suggestions on how this can best be achieved and examples of success stories.

Your opinions matter and will help shape the direction of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Plan!

4th of July with the Kansas State Parks

It’s been awhile since our last post – we’ve been hard at work out on the trails in this (relatively) balmy weather. We’ve been on the trails in south central and south east Kansas from El Dorado Lake to Cross Timbers State Park.

One of this year's cutest baby contestants enjoying watermelon in 2012

One of this year’s cutest baby contestants enjoying watermelon at the 2012 Old Fashioned 4th of July

But we’re taking a break to celebrate the 4th of July in Sterling with its Old Fashioned 4th of July. From an early morning run, to watching the turtle races, to rooting for our favorite in the cutest baby contest, and, of course, fireworks and lots of yummy food, it’s going to be a great day to relax and recharge to get ready to get back on the trails.

As for Kansas state parks, there’s only one that allows fireworks: Elk City State Park: July 1-4, 6:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Designated area only.

But there are plenty of fun and free events for the 4th at the parks. (If you don’t have an annual park pass, you’ll likely need to get a $5 day pass for any and all vehicles coming into the park.) From the KDWPT website:

7/4/13

Eisenhower State ParkSplash of Color (Tie Dye T-shirts) from 3 to 5pm.

El Dorado State Park – Fireworks Display

Friends of El Dorado Lake – Parade

Friends of Pomona State Park – Free Movie Night/Coffee and Donuts

Pomona State Park – Fireworks Display

7/5/13

Eisenhower State Park – “Wreck-It Ralph” Movie Night

Toronto Point/City of Toronto – Toronto Days

7/6/13

Cross Timbers State ParkToronto Days

Eisenhower State Park – Sand Castle Contest

Glen Elder State Park – Fireworks display

Kanopolis State Park – Fireworks display

Perry State Park – Fireworks display

Wilson State ParkLake Wilson Area Association Poker Run

7/7/13

Toronto Point/City of Toronto – Toronto Days

 

How are you going to be celebrating the 4th?