online book
Book Cover to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Cover Page


Table of Contents


A Grassland
Preservation Ethic

The Pottawatomie County Park

Reconsidering the
Flint Hills Options

Kansas Flint Hills
v. Cherokee Strip

Kansans Divide:
The Winn Bills

The Osage Prairie
National Preserve

The Spring Hill
Z Bar Ranch

H.R. 2369

The "Kassebaum Commission"



Note on Sources


Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Legislative History, 1920-1996

Convergence: 1994-1996

The ranch, moreover, was still for sale to the right buyer and under the right terms. Amid speculation that Kassebaum's group and Boatmen's might still work out a deal, the National Park Trust (NPT) entered the field of prospective buyers. As the Audubon Society's option began to run out, Ron Klataske approached the NPT and asked this group to become involved. The NPT, formed by the National Parks and Conservation Association in 1983 to function as a nonprofit land trust, thus began negotiating a separate deal with Boatman's Bank.[164] By late February 1994, negotiations were far enough along that Paul Pritchard, chairman of the board, circulated a confidential memorandum requesting that board members and others privy to the negotiations divulge only limited information until an official announcement could be released. [165] The official announcement, which came a few days later on March 4th, revealed that the NPT had agreed to raise $4.7 million by the end of June in order to meet the bank's asking price. The NPT's plan was to keep the ranch in private ownership and enter into an "affiliate relationship" with the NPS to operate the ranch as a unit of the national park system. Sen. Kassebaum and Rep. Glickman issued companion press releases on the same day approving of the agreement.[166]

Secretary of the Interior Babbitt toured the ranch in April while the NPT and the NPCA worked out arrangements for purchasing the ranch. His trip, on which Gov. Joan Finney accompanied him, appeared to be for the purpose of gauging local reaction to the impending purchase. Babbitt issued a cautious statement to the press saying that he was "not ready to endorse any particular plan to incorporate the 11,000 acre ranch into [the national park] system." Gov. Finney also was "not yet prepared to endorse a course of action for the Z Bar."[167]

The NPT and NPCA completed the purchase early in June 1994, and a delegation from both organizations traveled to Strong City to celebrate with Chase Countians on the grounds surrounding the Z Bar's 1880s stone ranch buildings.[168] The following August, Sen. Kassebaum convened a crucial meeting of the Kansas delegation with Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and Paul Pritchard to discuss "in very candid fashion" the National Park Service's land management role and what sort of federal ownership was necessary in order for the Department of the Interior to establish management authority. The feasibility of a partnership that would satisfy all interests was at stake in this meeting, and the intensity of discussion, as reported by those who were present, reflects as much. After the discussion "sort of went round and round," according to former Senator Kassebaum, Congressman (now Senator) Pat Roberts reportedly focused attention squarely on the point of how many acres the Department of the Interior needed to own in order to support legislation. The meeting ended with no final answer to that question, but shortly thereafter, Secretary Babbitt notified Kassebaum's office that 180 acres was the minimum needed under federal ownership. [169]

With this agreement struck, the Kansas delegation introduced companion bills to create a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve on the Spring Hill Z Bar Ranch, allowing the NPS to purchase a core area of 180 acres including the ranch buildings and the Fox Creek School. The "preserve" designation was one that allowed the National Park Service greater land management flexibility to carry out the proposed public-private partnership. Glickman's House bill was co-sponsored by Reps. Jan Meyers, Jim Slattery, and Pat Roberts. Kassebaum's Senate bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Dole. H.R. 5000 and S. 2412, introduced during the second session of the 103rd Congress, marked the first time the full Kansas congressional delegation had ever supported legislation to create a prairie park in Kansas.[170]

The campaign was not quite over, however. The Kansas Farm Bureau immediately objected to the provision authorizing federal purchase of the 180-acre ranch headquarters area on the basis that it would "open the door to future land acquisitions." [171] Glickman had hoped for a speedy passage through both houses, but the Farm Bureau mounted one last effort, pressing the Kansas delegation to drop the provision authorizing NPS acquisition of 180 acres. This time, however, there would be no entering wedge to split the Congressional delegation. Still, by late September neither the House nor the Senate had scheduled hearings, and the 103rd Congress was about to adjourn. The November elections brought another setback when Republicans captured control of Congress. This political shift directly affected the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve legislative effort because conservative Republican Todd Tiahrt managed an upset victory to win Dan Glickman's seat in the House, and Republican Sam Brownback replaced Democrat Jim Slattery, who retired from the House. It was not immediately clear whether either or both of the freshmen congressmen would support legislation in the 104th Congress. [172]

Meanwhile, the NPT and the NPCA kept moving forward. [173] Having depleted cash reserves and taken on a conventional bank mortgage in order to pay the purchase price, the organizations had a major fund-raising effort in front of them. That effort lightened early in 1995 when Texas multi- millionaire Edward Bass contributed $1 million to the park effort and paid $2 million, in advance, for a 35-year grazing lease on the Z Bar Ranch. [174]

The agreement between Bass and the NPT seemed to smooth the way for Sen. Kassebaum to reintroduce legislation. So did the hiring of Barbara Zurhellen as NPT's on-site person at the ranch. Zurhellen, whose official title was Director of Interpretation, was charged with the task of building trust and credibility in the local community. Her "mission" was "to humanize the project, because it was controversial, because there was a lot of mistrust and skepticism." She did this by becoming "very involved in the community," starting an open house program that gave many local residents their first opportunity to set foot in the ranch buildings, developing a volunteer program, and generally being "a good neighbor."[175]

The bill that finally passed into law was the product of intense cooperation between Mike Horak, Kassebaum's communications director; Laura Loomis, legislative representative for the NPCA; and Linda Potter, legislative affairs specialist for the NPS.[176] Senate Bill 695, introduced in April, was co-sponsored by Sen. Dole. Reps. Pat Roberts and Jan Meyers introduced a companion bill, H.R. 1449 in the House. The bills limited the NPS to ownership of 180 acres, to be acquired by donation, with no further expansion permitted.[177] The Farm Bureau kept up its lobbying effort in order to remove the provision allowing the NPS to own 180 acres, but Sen. Dole, whom they continued to hope would become an opposition leader, quietly maintained his support for the bill without getting involved in actual negotiations. In addition, Dan Glickman, recently confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, did what he could to solidify Democratic support. [178]

Once again, however, the bill was stalled, this time mired in congressional debate over scores of park and land bills. Early in March 1996, Kassebaum succeeded in attaching the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve bill to a parks package bill that included sixty park measures. The package bill, which passed the House, got bogged down in the Senate with partisan controversy over a provision to set aside two million acres in Utah as wilderness but, in return, open up another twenty million acres of federal land to ranching, mining, and other development. After the Senate failed to break a Democratic filibuster on the comprehensive parks bill, led by Sen. Bill Bradley, Kassebaum announced she would push the Z Bar bill separately. [179]

Intense negotiations and lobbying by many groups forced the Senate to work out partisan differences in order to keep the comprehensive parks bill alive. Finally, in early May, the Senate unanimously approved a negotiated bill. It then went to a House-Senate conference committee where it faced further opposition from the Clinton administration, which demanded that dozens of "pork barrel" provisions be removed. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was not among them. In late September, the House finally passed a scaled-back version, which then went back to the Senate. After a year of back-and-forth partisan negotiations, political pressure from constituents in a presidential election year forced Congress to pass legislation. The Senate voted unanimously on October 4, one month before the general election, to approve the massive parks bill, which affected a total of 113 sites in 41 states.[180] President Clinton signed the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act into law at a highly publicized Oval Office ceremony on November 12, 1996.[181]

Throughout the negotiations, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve provisions remained intact. Officially, the preserve is authorized under Subtitle A of Title X, Miscellaneous, of P.L. 104-333. It permits the NPS to acquire not more than 180 acres by donation and to manage the preserve in conjunction with the property owner, central provisions reflecting the compromises that led to successful legislation. Title X of P.L. 104-333 also established a thirteen-member Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Advisory Committee to be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The committee's mandated composition also reflects the diversity of concerns and interests involved in reaching compromise. Its members must include three representatives of the NPT; three representatives of local landowners, cattle ranchers or other agricultural interests; three representatives of conservation or historic preservation interests; one person each recommended by the Chase County Commission, Strong City and Cottonwood Falls officials, and the Governor of Kansas, and one range management specialist representing Kansas institutions of higher education. As mandated by law and chartered in September 1997, the committee's role is to advise the NPS on matters "concerning the development, management, and interpretation of the Preserve, including timely advice during the preparation of the general management plan for the Preserve."[182]


Last Modified: Sun, October 28, 2001 5:00 pm PDT
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