Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve VISITOR CENTER VIDEO This film has been made possible by a gift from the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation.
“Whenever you stop on the prairie to lunch or camp, and gaze around, there is a picture such as poet and painter never succeeded in transferring to book or canvas. [We] ought to have saved a Park in Kansas, ten thousand acres broad-the prairie as it came from the hand of God, not a foot or an inch desecrated by “improvements” and “cultivation.” It is only a memory now.” -- D.W. Wilder, editor of the Hiawatha World, Kansas, 1884
Welcome to one of the most magical places on earth, America's Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, established November 12, 1996. This magnificent "sea of grass" once covered almost one third of North America. This landscape of subtle beauty was named “prairie” - the French word for “meadow.” At this moment, you sit in the heart of one of the most remarkable stretches - a unique place that is being preserved by those who have banded together in their love of the prairie, setting aside a place for all to enjoy, a jewel in our National Park system.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: Once an Inland Sea Over 250 million years ago this area was covered by a vast inland sea that left behind sediment and sea creatures to form layers of limestone, shale, and flint. The Flint Hills are the result of differential erosion. This process eroded away the softer shales and limestones, leaving behind the hardened flint and eroded shelves. These layers of flint and limestone enabled natural springs to form, which provide entire aquatic habitats, home to crayfish, turtles, frogs, and fish. Three types of grasslands occur in North America, ''tallgrass, mixed grass, and short grass prairie", each dependent on a specific amount of rainfall; the four main grass species - big and little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass, provide a nurturing habitat for hundreds of prairie animals. There are magnificent stands of wildflowers - with different ones brightening the prairie every few weeks throughout the growing season. In the rich bottomland the grasses grow taller, where the deposited soils are deeper and more fertile and hold more rain runoff. What has made the tallgrass prairie truly thrive for thousands of years are two surprising factors: Fire ... and grazing. Nature allows tall grasses to grow to several feet high. Fire reduces shrub and tree encroachment, inhibits exotic plant species, and removes dead plant growth. This "thatch" blocks sunlight from reaching the soil - choking off new plants. Nature's solution for this dilemma is fire. Throughout the tallgrass prairie's history, lightning would strike the dead undergrowth and start a fire. These fires would race unchecked across the prairie for hundreds of miles, until they came to a river wide enough to stop them. What was left behind looked likethe surface of the moon with the limestone against the blackened prairie.
Plains Indians and the Prairie Long before the settlers came to the prairie, it was home and hunting grounds for numerous Plains Indians -Wichita, Osage, Pawnee, and the Kansa. The word "Kansa" has been translated to mean "people of the southwind". The value of bison to the Plains Indians is well documented. This magnificent animal provided food, shelter, weapons, tools, medicine, and figured prominently in ceremonial life. American Indians knew the potential of these grasslands and were “managing” the grasslands using fire, or "red buffalo" to attract bison. They watched as the bison herds sought out the fresh new shoots in the recently burned areas. Fire also improves plant palatability to grazers. Large grazers of the past included bison, elk, and pronghorn.
A Young America Moves West In 1806 Zebulon Pike and his party camped on the east bank of the Cottonwood River, below Florence, Kansas close to the preserve. He unknowingly named this area through a journal entry: "Commenced our march at seven o'clock. Passed very ruff flint hills. My feet blistered and very sore. I stood on a hill, and in one view below me saw buffalo, elk, deer, and panthers." Once considered the "Great American Desert" early explorers and traders rushed through the prairie's vast reaches for the rich soils of Oregon or even richer gold fields of California. Eventually however, this prairie land was found to be rich with nutrients and suitable for farming. Sodbuster plows tilled the North American tallgrass prairie and within a generation these vast grasslands began to disappear. Today, less than 4 % remains - mostly here in the Flint Hills of Kansas. As the westward settlers expanded into Kansas, peace officers and plowshares began to tame the "wild" west. With the vanishing bison, also came the end of nomadic tribes as they were removed to reservations and the land was settled, primarily by Euro-Americans. Not long after settlement people realized the grazing potential of the Flint Hills. The land was quickly purchased and fenced, thus ending the open range.
Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch One of the most significant ranches in this area was the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch, where you are today. Beginning with 160 acres in 1878, Stephen and Louisa Jones grew their holdings to 7,000 acres as they developed a self-sufficient farm and stock operation. The house was completed in 1881 for the sum of $25,000. The outbuildings, including the three-story barn were completed in 1882 for $15,000. These buildings were built using local Flint Hills limestone. In addition to the stone buildings, Mr. Jones donated land for the construction of the Lower Fox Creek School in 1882. To enclose his land and divide into pastures, 30 miles of stone fence were built. Jones raised Durham, Galloway, Hereford, and Polled Angus cattle. A variety of other livestock was also raised. Large gardens, orchards, and vineyards occupied the bottomland across from the house.
A Preserve for All Today at nearly 11,000 acres the preserve is a partnership between the National Park Service, ·The Nature Conservancy, and the Kansas Park Trust. Together they are working to preserve and enhance a nationally significant remnant of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, along with the cultural resources of the preserve and the heritage associated with former ranch property. The ranch headquarters area, comprised of the limestone buildings, is open to visitors year-around, including special events that highlight the natural and cultural heritage of the Flint Hills. By making such a magnificent piece of our natural and cultural heritage a reality, it is now available to be experienced and enjoyed by all. So, go .... experience the trails, breathe in the air at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve; you are in the heart of America's tallgrass prairie ...
D.W. Wilder's vision is more than a "memory now". The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is waiting for you to discover its beauty, vastness, and significance to our nation's history. The prairie is beckoning ....
Audio from Tallgrass Prairie NPres orientation film