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 Spring Hill Z Bar Ranch Option: 1988-1990

As the Osage legislative effort ebbed, the tide turned and flowed back to the Flint Hills of Chase County. This time the focal point was the Z Bar Ranch, historically known as the Spring Hill Ranch, near Strong City. Established in 1878, the 10,894-acre ranch included a stunning complement of limestone buildings built in the 1880s, a one-room stone schoolhouse, approximately thirty miles of stone fences, and numerous outbuildings.[113]

In June 1988, the National Audubon Society secured an option to purchase the ranch from Boatman's National Bank of Kansas City, acting on behalf of the ranch trustees.[114] This event proved to be a critical turning point. It altered the balance of power between opposing sides just enough to set in motion a complex process of negotiations that ultimately led to successful legislation. However, the process moved haltingly, and important concerns were left unresolved by the legislative compromise finally enacted in 1996. The news that the Audubon Society had an option to purchase the Z Bar was not made public until January 1989. In the meantime Ron Klataske, the West Central regional vice president, contacted Congressman Dan Glickman about developing legislation to establish the ranch as some type of NPS unit.[115] Klataske, a native Kansan with a farming and ranching background, had been involved in the tallgrass prairie park effort since the early 1970s and had long maintained the position that any land acquisition must be on a willing-seller basis with protections against federal use of eminent domain.[116]

Rep. Glickman had expressed interest in a new legislative effort and arranged for Klataske to meet with the Kansas congressional delegation early in December 1988. At this meeting, Klataske outlined a proposal for establishing the ranch as a tallgrass prairie monument, possibly in conjunction with a tallgrass prairie parkway, with land for the latter to be acquired on a willing-seller basis. Following the meeting, Klataske worked with Glickman's staff to develop his proposal into a discussion draft bill.[117] Events then began to move quickly. The City of Strong City learned about the Audubon Society's option when it approached the trustees about purchasing a few acres of the ranch adjacent to the city limits. At that point, Klataske had little choice but to go public with the information, so he called a meeting with local community leaders on January 5, 1989. To a gathering of about eighty people he presented three options that were under consideration: federal purchase with development, management and interpretation by the NPS; purchase and operation by the National Audubon Society; or purchase by the State of Kansas with operation through an appropriate state agency. Before proceeding with legislation, however, Klataske proposed that a "partnership" of local leaders, landowners, and conservation groups sit down together and work out a plan.[118]

Initial reaction up and down the Flint Hills was encouraging. A stream of favorable editorials appeared in newspapers. "Home on the Range" wrote the Emporia Gazette; "This Is the Time; This Is the Place" came from the Wichita Eagle-Beacon; "Prairie Park's Time Has Come" appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal. The city councils of Strong City, Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove, and Emporia endorsed the national monument idea. So did the chambers of commerce of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. Klataske also made it clear that he would work diligently to obtain local consensus before the Audubon Society would seek congressional action.[119]

By late February, however, resistance had begun to form once again, and local residents were drifting into different camps. Ranchers expressed their opposition at a "packed meeting" which was followed the next day by a meeting "packed with supporters." Community leaders and business owners welcomed the local economic boost that would come with tourism. Ranchers had no objection to the Audubon Society purchasing the property, but they were skeptical about federal involvement. Some ranchers were willing to accept a national monument in the park system if there were guarantees that no more land would be taken by eminent domain. Others just saw the proposal as an entering wedge, no matter what assurances were given. As a spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association put it, "There is just a deep-seated philosophy in the Flint Hills that the government should not own land." [120]

While local residents began to take sides, the Flint Hills National Monument Committee began preparing a legislative proposal that might fly. Chaired by attorney Lee Fowler, the committee numbered more than thirty people, including owners of land adjoining the Z Bar and representatives from the communities of Strong City, Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove, and Emporia. "The purpose of the committee," according to Fowler, "was to identify local concerns because there were a lot of controversial issues at that time." The committee reviewed previous proposals for a tallgrass national park and visited a number of national monuments. The goal was to draft a legislative proposal that would alleviate fear among Flint Hills landowners that they would lose their farms and ranches. As stated by Fowler, "We were trying to include provisions to help protect these people's property in any bills that came forward."[121]

After several meetings, the committee developed a proposal. When Fowler forwarded the draft bill to Rep. Glickman, he advised the congressman that "certain provisions" were considered by the committee to be "sacred." These provisions included "prohibiting the use of eminent domain" to acquire additional lands or scenic easements and "protection of the local tax base." To assure that local residents and communities would be permanently involved in the management of the proposed monument, the draft bill also contained a provision to establish a twenty-member advisory committee, explicitly directed to comprise two adjacent landowners and one non-rural resident of Chase County; one representative each from the governing bodies of Strong City, Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove, and Emporia; one representative each from the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department and the Kansas State Historical Society; one representative each from the Kansas Audubon Council or the Kansas Wildlife Federation, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Kansas Livestock Association; three experts in range management and animal science from Kansas universities; a representative of the governor's office; and four members selected by the Secretary of the Interior. [122]

Even though the Flint Hills National Monument Committee had addressed every concern expressed by opponents, and newspapers throughout eastern Kansas endorsed the draft legislation heartily, the Topeka Capital-Journal nonetheless predicted that this was the beginning of "Range War in Chase County ? 1980s Style...." [123] The prediction proved to be accurate. In late April, Congressman Glickman appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior to request, on behalf of the Kansas delegation, $50,000 to fund an NPS feasibility study. He cautiously noted that the delegation was "not yet committed to support the actual creation of...a monument," but they felt that there was "enough interest in Kansas to warrant a feasibility study." [124] Just a few days before he spoke, however, the Kansas Grassroots Association notified his office that it had "recently reorganized to actively and consistently oppose" turning the Z Bar Ranch into a prairie national monument. [125]

Congress adjourned for the summer without appropriating funds for the feasibility study, but early in September the NPS notified Glickman that it would fund the study out of its own budget. [126] With the announcement that the NPS would spend its own money, tension in Chase County increased. The Wichita Eagle sent a reporter up to Strong City to gauge local reactions. The story ran in a Sunday edition with a photograph of five ranchers posed defiantly on the lawn of the Z Bar Ranch. Such a provocative photograph lent emphasis to information buried in the article reporting that the Chase County Leader had stopped printing letters to the editor because there was just too much local frustration over editorials that had appeared in newspapers throughout the state "in favor of the monument proposal without speaking to nearby ranchers." In other words, while many local residents were trying to maintain civility and calm in the face of serious community divisions, the media seemed to be playing up the controversy, making it much harder to find common ground. People from both sides who were willing to give statements to the press agreed on one thing: nothing had ever happened to split the community worse.

Randall Baynes, Superintendent of Homestead National Monument of America, led the team assigned to the feasibility study. On March 23, 1990, when the study team traveled to Strong City for a day-long "open house" in order to give local residents a chance to ask questions and make comments, KGA representatives disrupted the proceedings. The local newspaper ran a headline story describing the grim details, which included day-long picketing, blocking access to the meeting room, and videotaping speakers who were perceived to be park supporters. A companion editorial chastised the KGA for "making the issue of the national monument personal and in the process wounding and hurting our community for a long time to come. Chase County has far more to fear from that," the editorial concluded, "than any national monument--or not." [128]

Randall Baynes reported the event in a long letter to Congressman Glickman. After detailing what had already been well-covered by the press, Baynes acknowledged that "despite repeated attempts, the Service has been unable to convince local citizens that there currently is neither a Congressional effort underway nor has legislation been introduced to establish a park in Chase County." He further noted that the divisive issue was having a "profound" negative effect on the communities of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls.[129]

The KGA made no attempt to disrupt a second meeting held in Cottonwood Falls on June 28, but the Chase County Board of Education unanimously rejected an NPS request to use air-conditioned school facilities. Nonetheless, about 100 supporters and opponents turned out to fill folding chairs set up in the un-air-conditioned municipal building. Baynes and his study team came prepared to maintain control of the meeting. They kept it short and responded only to questions written on cards handed out to those who attended. [130]

While the NPS finished its feasibility study, local adversaries tried to find an acceptable compromise. Directors of the Flint Hills Resource Conservation and Development organization negotiated a six-member committee composed of three representatives from the Flint Hills National Monument Committee and three from the KGA. The committee decided not to discuss its meetings publicly, but it was generally known that the central issue of debate was federal ownership of land.[131] Positions on that issue, moreover, had moved beyond compromise.


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