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

Kansas Flint Hills v. Cherokee Strip Proposals: 1971-1973

In 1971, two competing proposals entered the legislative hopper. In June of that year the Governor's advisory committee, backed by the Prairie National Park Natural History Association, other environmental groups, universities, newspapers, and an untold number of individuals, presented the Kansas congressional delegation with a formal request for legislation.[37] Rep. Larry Winn, Jr. [R] of Overland Park and Sen. James Pearson responded by introducing companion bills similar to the failed Pottawatomie County proposals of the early 1960s. That is, both bills called for a 60,000-acre prairie park. However, neither bill specified a location other than within the State of Kansas. [38] Even though the location was left unspecified, everyone understood the intent was to establish a prairie park somewhere in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Corresponding support for the Winn-Pearson bills came primarily from residents of northeast Kansas. Also in 1971, Sen. Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma introduced a bill to expand the study authorized by P.L. 91-462 to include the Oklahoma Panhandle. [39] No action was taken on this bill.

The NPS withheld support from both bills, in part because of continuing local controversy and in part because the Cherokee Strip proposal taking legislative shape in Skubitz's office was for a historical park thematically linked to nineteenth-century cattle trails. Although the Cherokee Strip concept included 30,000 acres of grassland, NPS staff advised that it was not "true prairie" and worried that the proposal, should it gain momentum, would dilute support for a prairie park in the "choice area" of Osage County, Oklahoma.[40] Instead of supporting either proposal, the NPS suggested amending Pearson's bill to authorize another study, similar to the study authorized by P.L. 91-462.[41]

On the local level, supporters of the Flint Hills proposal held some hope that Skubitz would help advance the Winn bill through the National Parks Subcommittee of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, of which he was the ranking minority member. [42] However, by mid-1972, both the Winn and Pearson bills were still locked in subcommittee and hope for support from Skubitz had faded. Prairie park proponents located primarily in Winn's district in northeast Kansas thus formed a new lobbying group to shore up support. The People for Prairie Park League, as the group was known, had the backing of the Prairie National Park Natural History Association and a variety of other environmental groups that were organizing in the early 1970s. [43]

Photographer Patricia DuBose Duncan was a prominent figure in the People for Prairie Park League. She wrote articles, served as a local liaison to elected officials and national environmental organizations, and generally helped to coordinate local affairs. In a 1972 article, Duncan expressed concern that Rep. Skubitz shared "the same general philosophy" of cattlemen and other prairie park opponents. [44] It was a concern widely shared by park proponents in northeast Kansas.

Meantime, the Kansas Livestock Association took the lead in opposing the Winn-Pearson bills and proposed instead a 600 mile "prairie parkway" loop consisting of observation viewpoints along existing highways through the Flint Hills.[45] Clif Barron, a Cambridge rancher, is credited with originating the "prairie parkway" or "ribbon park" idea, but the concept is also traceable to the Prairie- Great Plains Tourway proposed by the NPS in 1965. The major difference was that Barron envisioned a scenic loop following county roads on both the east and west sides of the Flint Hills, not a single highway corridor.[46]

Hoping to unify agriculturists and environmentalists, various groups in Manhattan, Kansas, formed the Manhattan Citizens for the Tallgrass National Park. The Manhattan Citizens took the position that "range abuse by ranchers," perceived or real, was "not a valid point for having a park" and proposed that some sort of landmark or museum commemorating the "ranching heritage" of Kansas be erected "in conjunction with the preservation of the natural ecosystem."[47]

The flurry of citizen organizing that took place in 1971 and 1972 succeeded in drawing the general lines of battle, agriculturists v. environmentalists, but it produced no evidence of strong support among Kansans in general either for or against a national prairie park. This was reason enough for other members of the Kansas congressional delegation to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, as they did. Moreover, national conservation and environmental organizations were not yet taking much interest in the proposition. As a result, the 1971 Winn-Pearson bills died in committee.

Rep. Skubitz captured the spotlight early in 1973 by calling attention to the NPS's study report on the proposed Cherokee Strip National Historic Park. The preliminary report, prepared in January, recommended combining Skubitz's proposed Cherokee Strip historic park with a tallgrass prairie segment. Before the preliminary report had even been approved internally, Skubitz requested that NPS Director Ronald Walker expand the study to include additional recreational areas, especially lakes and reservoirs, and related historic sites of local as well as national significance. He further requested that the director have prepared a legislative proposal "that would include the recommendations now in the Cherokee Strip Report with the most appropriate segments of tallgrass prairie, the combined total of which should not exceed 60,000 acres...." [48]

Skubitz lost no time in promoting his proposal as a "prairie park" that might appeal to both ranchers and environmentalists. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association, he made it clear that he did not support the concept of a large park focused solely or primarily on preserving an expanse of tallgrass prairie. Such a park, in his estimation, would not attract enough tourists to offset the loss of property tax revenue when land shifted to public ownership.[49] He also announced the formation of a Kansas Advisory Team to work with the NPS to develop the "integrated park system" he had in mind. Members of his advisory team represented a broad spectrum of interests: Bill Colvin, chair of the Governor's Prairie National Park Advisory Committee; rancher Clif Barron; directors of the Kansas Park and Resources Authority, State Historical Society, and State Water Resources Board; the executive secretary of the Kansas Soil Conservation Committee; the director of the Kansas District Corps of Engineers; and a private citizen from Council Grove, located in the heart of the Flint Hills.[50]

Whatever the merits of the combined Cherokee Strip-Tallgrass Prairie proposal, it only succeeded in polarizing opposing sides. Environmentalists in northeast Kansas banded together in a new group, Save the Tallgrass Prairie, Inc. (STP), organized in January 1973. Two months later, STP announced that while it did not exactly oppose the Cherokee Strip Park concept, it was concerned that the tallgrass prairie segment meet the criteria established by earlier NPS studies and therefore recommended a separate national park on the eastern slopes of the Flint Hills in Kansas. This was quickly followed by legislative "guidelines" for a tallgrass prairie park at a specific location south of Emporia. [51]

Ranchers and landowners in the Flint Hills countered by organizing the Kansas Grassroots Association (KGA) in March 1973. The KGA was willing to support Clif Barron's scenic loop idea, but it withheld support for Skubitz's Cherokee Strip proposal and campaigned against STP. In May 1973, KGA chairman J. Manuel Hughes informed the NPS that the organization had "at least 6,000 signatures, gathered all over the State of Kansas" protesting a prairie park. Hughes went on to conclude that "except for a hard-core group in Kansas City and its environs, and in Lawrence[,] Kansas[,] at our state university, I believe we can safely say that the big majority of Kansans do not want such a park."[52]

As 1973 progressed, a host of organizations took positions for or against or somewhere in between. The Kansas Ornithological Society and the American Institute of Architects generally endorsed a tallgrass prairie park. The Wichita Branch of Friends of the Earth specifically supported a 30,000-60,000-acre natural park. [53] Skubitz appealed to the KGA to drop its opposition to a prairie park, but to no avail.[54]


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