|Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve|
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
|Location||Chase County, Kansas|
|Nearest city||Emporia, Kansas|
|Area||10,894 acres (44.09 km2)|
|Established||November 12, 1996|
|Visitors||29,378 (in 2016)|
|Governing body||National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy|
|Website||Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve|
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, north of Strong City. The preserve protects a nationally significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Of the 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) of tallgrass prairie that once covered the North American continent, less than 4% remains, primarily in the Flint Hills. Since 2009, the preserve has been home to the growing Tallgrass Prairie bison herd.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a new kind of national park. The preserve of 10,894 acres (44 km2) was the Spring Hill/Z-Bar Ranch, purchased by the National Park Trust in 1994. Legislation introduced in 1991 called for the creation of the Preserve, but local interests objected to the condition that the National Park Service would own it all. From 1991-1994, U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker convened a group of stakeholders, many with opposing views, to seek agreement on the formula for a tallgrass prairie park. The group began work in January 1992, and a different model for a national park emerged; it would be a public/private partnership, managed by the National Park Service, but the land privately owned.
In 1994, Senators Kassebaum-Baker and Bob Dole introduced Senate bill S. 2412 Congress, which would allow the Federal government to create a national preserve, under the public/private partnership ownership arrangement. The bill, S. 2412 limited National Park Service ownership to no more than 180 acres (0.7 km2) of the preserve, the remainder owned by National Park Trust; both would manage the new park cooperatively. On November 12, 1996, the bill became Public Law 104-333, later codified under Title 16 United States Code Section 698u (16 USC 698 u).
On September 20, 2002, National Park Trust donated approximately 32 acres (129,000 m2) to the National Park Service; it included the 1881 historic ranch house, limestone barn and outbuildings, and one-room schoolhouse. National Park Trust worked with the National Park Service to plan and develop the park from 1996 to 2005.
Though National Park Trust was named in the legislation, the law allowed for successor non-profits to own the land and continue the unique public/private ownership and management relationship. So, in 2005, National Park Trust sold the approximate 10,862 acres to The Nature Conservancy, which specializes in the protection and management of unique, irreplaceable landscapes and perishable resources the world over.
Today, the NPS and The Nature Conservancy work toward preservation of the tallgrass prairie, while sharing the story of ranching legacy, American Indian history, and the diverse tallgrass prairie ecosystem in the heart of the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas.
Tallgrass Prairie is the nation's second newest national preserve and the park is still under development with visitor opportunities continually being expanded.
There are over 40 miles of maintained hiking trails in the preserve allowing visitors access to the tallgrass prairie. During the summer, narrated bus tours of the prairie are offered.
On January 29, 2008, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was named as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.
In 2009, The Nature Conservancy introduced a small herd of bison into the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
Development of Spring Hill Ranch began in 1878, with land purchases in the Flint Hills by Stephen F. Jones, a cattle rancher originally from Tennessee. He completed the ranch headquarters in 1881, and was one of the early adopters in the region of enclosed ranching, in which cattle movements are limited by stone walls, fences, or barbed wire. This was a marked change that swept across the Plains in the 1880s, caused in large part by overgrazing in open range operations. Over the years that followed his initial purchase, Jones expanded the ranch to a size of 7,000 acres (28 km2). The fine Second Empire ranch house was built for Jones in 1881 at an estimated cost of $25,000. Jones was also responsible for construction of the Lower Fox Creek School, built on land he donated. Jones used the ranch to grow herds of purebred cattle of several breeds, as well as some purebred breeds of hogs and sheep. Jones sold the ranch in 1888 to Barney Lantry.
The Lantry family kept the ranch until 1904, primarily raising thoroughbred cattle. Spring Hill, the core of their holdings, was eventually divided up until smaller parcels. It was reassembled in a series of purchases executed in 1935 by George Davis, a grain dealer from Kansas City. Following Davis' death in 1955, the property was eventually put into a trust, and operated as the Z-Bar Ranch.
Historic interest in the property began in the 1960s, when local groups organized the restoration of the Lower Fox Creek School. The ranch complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, one of the first listings in the state. The National Audubon Society acquired an option to purchase the property in 1988, but this expired in 1990. It aroused wider interest in the property, resulting in its eventual acquisition by the National Park Trust. The entire ranch property was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1997, primarily for its association with Jones and the end of the open range ranching era.
Almost a century and a half later, an unusual three-way accord involving the Federal Government, a private nonprofit organization and big-time cattlemen allowed me to experience the same scene amid the nearly 11,000 acres (45 km2) of rolling hills that form the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, one of the few large tracts of virgin prairie left in the United States. While the traveler of long ago saw bison in the distance, today's tourists share the prairie with thousands of head of cattle shipped into Kansas every spring to fatten on the nutritious bluestem grasses.