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

The Pottawatomie County Park Proposal: 1958-1963

During the nearly three decades between 1930 and 1958, the broad concept of a grasslands national park gradually narrowed in focus to a tallgrass prairie park, which was promoted as being "true" prairie. However, just as ambivalence over the meaning and value of America's grasslands was expressed by early observers, so did ambivalence and controversy mark the long endeavor to create a "true" or tallgrass prairie national park in a specific location. The first contested area was located in Pottawatomie County, Kansas.

Between 1954 and 1958, G.W. Tomanek and F.W. Albertson, professors at Fort Hays State College (now University), studied twenty-four areas in Colorado, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, Texas, and Kansas. These studies were funded by the NPS and endorsed by the Advisory Board of National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments. The results of the Tomanek-Albertson investigations became the basis for NPS recommendations issued in 1958. [10] In the 1958 report, Proposal for a True Prairie National Park, the NPS called for a 34,000-acre park in Pottawatomie County, Kansas. In 1959, the Advisory Board recommended for inclusion in the park system a 34,000-acre site east of Tuttle Creek Reservoir, near Manhattan in Pottawatomie County, Kansas. This recommendation appeared to have initial local support, at least through the Manhattan Area Park Development Association, founded in 1958 to promote both the Tuttle Creek Reservoir, an Army Corps of Engineers project, and the establishment of a grassland national park in Pottawatomie County. [11] The stage was thus set for the NPS to initiate legislative efforts for the purpose of establishing a prairie national park in a specific locale.

The next year, however, when NPS final recommendations began to take shape, key differences emerged. The 1960 Reevaluation Study, True Prairie Grasslands, was less specific than its predecessor, the 1958 Proposal for a True Prairie National Park. In the 1960 report, the NPS concluded that of the twenty-four sites surveyed, six met the criteria for preservation. These criteria stipulated that the area must be at least 30,000 acres; have the topography, drainage systems, vegetation, and wildlife species of a "typical" prairie ecosystem; be free of serious intrusions; and display sufficient scenic quality. A follow-up study subsequently reduced the number of "nationally significant" areas to four, all of them in the Flint Hills region of Kansas and Oklahoma. The four sites were designated Manhattan, Chase, Elk, and Osage according to city or county names where they respectively occurred. Of the four, the Manhattan study area (near the City of Manhattan, Kansas) was considered the most "feasible" for designation as a national park, inasmuch as the federal government already had a presence in the area. The Osage study area (located in Osage County, Oklahoma and parts of Cowley and Chautauqua counties, Kansas) was considered the most "suitable," based on natural qualities. [12]

Another 1960 NPS study, Statement Analyzing Studies and Preliminary Plan for Proposed Prairie National Park, called for a 57,000-acre site east of and abutting Tuttle Creek Reservoir.[13] This recommendation not only increased the acreage, but, more importantly, eliminated a corridor of land separating the 34,000-acre site and Tuttle Creek Reservoir. The two differing recommendations reflected the emergence of local desires to exploit the recreational potential of the new reservoir. In March of 1960 the Pottawatomie County Commission approved the proposed national park as long as the boundaries were not extended to the shore of Tuttle Creek Reservoir. As a result, NPS officials decided to make two separate recommendations to Congress, one with a buffer zone between the park and the reservoir and one without. The NPS clearly favored the proposal without the buffer zone, but county commissioners were equally adamant that a mile-wide strip be established for economic development. The Kansas congressional delegation sided with the county commission. [14]

The final 1961 NPS planning report, A Proposed Prairie National Park, maintained the agency's preferred plan, despite local opposition. As envisioned in the final recommendations, visitors could drive through a 57,000-acre park along a road winding from the shores of the reservoir through restored prairie, stopping at viewing areas along the way. They could also hike trails on foot or ride horses on equestrian trails. Proposed amenities included campgrounds, picnic areas, and an interpretive center.[15]

As NPS recommendations were being finalized, legislation also was under discussion. As early as 1959, Rep. William Avery [R] apparently requested the assistance of the NPS in drafting a bill that would authorize the creation of a 34,000-acre park. Kansas senators Andrew F. Schoeppel [R] and Frank Carlson [R] joined Avery in supporting the creation of a park, but the three publicly announced that they would await completion of NPS studies before taking any legislative action.[16]

The next year Rep. Avery and Sens. Schoeppel and Carlson introduced companion bills. Instead of a 34,000-acre park, the bills called for a 57,000-acre park, which accorded with NPS final recommendations, and the proposed boundary had been extended westward to the shores of Tuttle Creek Reservoir.[17]

Even at this early stage, area residents were dividing into proponents and opponents. Among proponents, Bill Colvin, a member of the Manhattan Area Park Development Association, was the most visible. Colvin, who was employed as editor of the Manhattan Mercury, began supporting the park idea in the newspaper. Not coincidentally, the Manhattan Mercury was owned by the family of Fred Seaton, who served as Secretary of the Interior from 1956 to 1961 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[18] Developing multipurpose flood control reservoirs to serve a variety of outdoor recreational demands was a priority of the Eisenhower administration. The Kansas state park system was moving in this direction at the same time, so the idea of meshing a federal flood control project with a new national park was in line with the thinking of the times to meet growing demand for outdoor recreation.

Opposition began to form in part because of the Tuttle Creek flood control project. After a devastating flood in 1951, which took forty-one lives and the homes of 100,000 people in Manhattan, Topeka, and Kansas City, the Army Corps of Engineers found enough local and congressional support to move forward with the proposed Tuttle Creek Dam Project, first proposed in 1931. The need for a large flood control dam and reservoir had been a contested local issue since then; and, as the Tuttle Creek project moved to reality, passions rose higher among landowners and soil conservationists who opposed the "big dam" solution to flood control. Additionally, the Corps dragged its feet in constructing new roads, which had been promised so that nearby landowners would not be inconvenienced when the reservoir began to fill. As a result, by the late 1950s the Corps and the federal bureaucracy in general were considered "the enemy" to many citizens of Pottawatomie County.[19]

Before passions could cool, the proposed national prairie park became another target for those who felt as though the federal government had acted arrogantly in taking agricultural land to impound the waters of Tuttle Creek. The initial 34,000-acre concept of 1959 attempted to mitigate local controversy by stipulating a corridor of land to separate the flood control reservoir and the park. However, the corridor concept also conveniently allowed for considerable private recreational development, which generated local interest and support among business people. Proposed legislation in 1960, which promulgated an "ideal" park of 57,000 acres without the buffer zone, was thus politically risky from the outset. It did not entirely please proponents who wanted a corridor along the reservoir for private recreational development, and it confirmed the worst fears of opponents because it would take more land. In 1961, when legislation was reintroduced in the 87th Congress, the odds against passage probably increased, inasmuch as these bills would have authorized the Secretary of the Interior to acquire up to 60,000 acres. A provision authorizing the federal government to take this many acres by eminent domain was a further irritant.[20]

Still, there was enough local support that the Avery and Schoeppel-Carlson bills might have passed with some amendments. Pottawatomie County commissioners, who generally supported the proposal, asked the NPS to consider restoring the corridor concept. NPS officials hedged by submitting two separate recommendations. Under the leadership of Dr. E. Raymond Hall, professor of ecology and director of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas, proponents in northeast Kansas organized another group, the Prairie National Park Natural History Association. [21] This group requested that Governor John Anderson seek a substantial appropriation from the state legislature to assist the federal government with purchase of park lands.[22] Despite rising opposition, the state legislature approved a $100,000 appropriation in February 1962, contingent upon Congress passing legislation to establish the park.[23]

Opponents, who were slower to organize, eventually captured enough momentum to kill the congressional bills. A key episode in this turn of fortunes took place on December 4, 1961, when cattle rancher Carl Bellinger confronted Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall and NPS Director Conrad Wirth on grazing land that Bellinger was leasing in the Twin Mound area. Although first-hand accounts of the Twin Mound Incident vary in the details, Bellinger happened to be on the property when Udall's entourage, traveling in two helicopters, landed near Twin Mound to rendezvous with a tour guide. Instead, Bellinger met Udall as he deplaned and, wielding a gun, ordered him off the property. Caught off-guard, a stunned Udall returned to his helicopter. Reporters and photographers, however, were on hand to record the brief event, and the news traveled well beyond local headlines. Accordingly, Bellinger became something of a local legend for taking on the federal government. His "standoff" gave rise to the first opposition group, the Twin Mound Ranchers, and more-or-less set the thematic tone for every legislative effort that followed.[24]

The Twin Mound Incident would have been sufficient buffeting, but it proved to be only a prelude to the opposition that greeted Udall and Wirth at public meetings later the same day. At the Pottawatomie County Commission chambers Bellinger was once again on hand to voice his opinion before a packed audience. Two other people presented signed statements of opposition. Ranchers and farmers, affronted because the NPS had not included them in the planning process, began coming together against the park on principle; and real estate developers wanted the corridor area restored so the shore of Tuttle Creek Reservoir could be developed with home sites.[25]

One day of news-making controversy, however, was not enough to stop the Pottawatomie County proposal entirely. New bills were introduced in 1963 by Congressman Avery and Senators James Pearson [R] and Frank Carlson. A key component of both bills was a provision that would establish an advisory committee to determine the proposed park boundary on the Tuttle Creek Reservoir side.[26] The strategy did not work. By this time, the Twin Mound Ranchers Association was organized for opposition and endorsed by the Kansas Livestock Association. In July 1963 the Twin Mound Ranchers staged a local public hearing to publicize its opposition, then sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. in August to attend hearings of the Senate Public Lands Subcommittee. Senator Pearson testified on behalf of Kansans who supported legislation, which officially included the governor and the state legislature. Anthony W. Smith, president and general counsel of the National Parks [and Conservation] Association, however, cautioned the senators not to allow "enlargement of the national park system... by riding roughshod over human property and lives." When subcommittee members from western states lined up with local opponents criticizing the park proposal, chances for a favorable report vanished. Pearson's bill died in committee, and the Pottawatomie County proposal faded away. [27]


Last Modified: Sun, October 28, 2001 5:00 pm PDT
National Park Service's ParkNet Home