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 "Kassebaum Commission": December 1991-January 1994

From late 1991 to early 1994, Sen. Kassebaum worked with a group of individuals who were selected to represent all the major concerns associated with establishing the Z Bar Ranch as the place where a portion of the prairie would be preserved. Kassebaum's November 1993 announcement followed private discussions with farm groups and a firm belief that if representatives from opposing sides could be brought together, rational minds would prevail to create a mutually acceptable proposal for preserving the Z Bar Ranch under private ownership.[150] Leaders of the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Livestock Association, and the Kansas Grassroots Association agreed to work with her to find or create a private entity to acquire the Z Bar. Realizing that the House bill had little chance of making it through the Senate without the support of Sens. Kassebaum or Dole, but that Sen. Kassebaum nonetheless was going to continue the search for a workable solution, all parties began to give a little ground.[151] After a two-hour, closed-door meeting that took place in December at Wichita State University, Kassebaum told the press she was "encouraged by reaction to her proposal," which was that a seven-member board be formed, representing agriculture, conservation, and local community interests, to "work together to preserve the property." Representatives from opposing sides of the issue were less sanguine about the prospects for working together, but they agreed to go along with the proposal for the time being.[152]

The proposal actually began to take shape when Kassebaum convened a meeting in January 1992 at the Z Bar Ranch. The group she assembled agreed to create a private foundation with a twelve-member board of trustees. The board would raise private funds to purchase the ranch and develop a plan for managing the land and interpreting its natural and cultural resources. The agreement mirrored all the stipulations that the Flint Hills Monument Committee had written into draft legislation except that the land would be privately owned. Membership in the board of trustees was structured so that the seven members of the Kansas congressional delegation appointed nine of the twelve trustees, with the other three appointed by the governor, the city councils of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls (jointly), and the Chase County Board of Commissioners. The structure deliberately avoided recreating the old divisions. [153] By mid-April the board of trustees had been named, and everyone expected the new foundation, which did not have a name yet, to get down to work. [154] However, during the next few months the commission actually accomplished little more than "housekeeping details" and choosing stationery, according to trustee Lee Fowler. By the end of the year, the commission, which was now officially Spring Hill Z Bar Ranch, Inc., still had not begun to raise money or develop a management plan, and park proponents were impatient with the board's lack of progress and lack of visibility. [155]

Shortly after the 1992 presidential election, which brought Democrat Bill Clinton into the White House, Glickman announced that he would reintroduce his bill if the Spring Hill Z Bar Ranch board did not begin to make progress.[156] He reiterated his intent the following May after a meeting with Bruce Babbitt, the new Secretary of the Interior, who gave a statement to the press endorsing a tallgrass prairie park in the Flint Hills.[157] A few weeks later Sen. Kassebaum's aide, Mike Horak, reported to key board members on a critical meeting with Denis Galvin of the NPS. With a change in political administrations, the NPS was once again supportive of a prairie park concept. According to Galvin, the NPS "very much" wanted to have the Z Bar Ranch "affiliated" with the NPS and was willing to be "flexible" in working out the details of an "affiliate relationship." The only type of relationship that Galvin ruled out was one that would relegate the NPS "to merely run[ning] a visitors center and a few acres around the ranch building." [158]

Within two weeks, the board adopted a consent agreement with the NPS that provided for NPS to operate and manage the ranch with appropriate interpretive and educational programs focused on the natural history of the prairie and the cultural history of Native Americans and ranching in the Flint Hills region. Under terms of the agreement, the board committed to raising $5 million within two years in order to purchase the ranch. [159] Now that a management agreement and a fund-raising schedule were in place, the Spring Hill Z Bar board approached Boatmen's Trust Company with a purchase proposal. Six months of negotiations followed, including a personal meeting between Sen. Kassebaum and the president of Boatmen's Bank. In the end, the bank stipulated a firm purchase price that was fifteen percent above the $3.9 million appraised fair market value. Officially, the board rejected Boatmen's asking price, but a disappointed Kassebaum concluded that the bank never intended to sell the ranch to Spring Hill Z Bar Ranch, Inc. [160] In a message to Kansans through the Topeka Capital-Journal, Kassebaum responded that it was "unfortunate, and deeply disappointing, that Boatmen's waited two years to make its own position clear." [161]

In retrospect, Fowler noted that "even though the Kassebaum Commission failed in its ultimate goal, it actually succeeded because it provided the metamorphosis from 'we can't do this,' to 'yes, we can.' What happened in the Kassebaum Commission that was extremely important was that everybody signed on board, including the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Farm Bureau, [agreeing] that it was okay for a private nonprofit organization to own the property." [162] Kassebaum concurred with this assessment of the commission. "It accomplished bringing the diverse voices to the table, and they could be just as vehement on one side as the other." In the end, although Spring Hill Z Bar Ranch, Inc. did not get the property, "it put in motion the process that did enable [the preserve] to come to fruition." [163]


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