Location: Kansas

Kansas Trail News: December 1, 2010

Kansas Trail News for December 1, 2010 from Sunflower Recreational Trails:

Congress Rescinds Trail Funding

According to a letter from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, “Congress recently took back $2.2 billion in funding from states, programs supporting trails took the biggest hit. Nearly $580 million once authorized for walking, biking, and trails projects was slashed…While our efforts helped convince 21 states to preserve the accounts that support rail-trails in response to a congressional order to return transportation dollars, other states cut these funds disproportionately.

Editor’s note: It is still unclear how this affects Kansas.

Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area Approved

The following appeared in the KC Star (11-12-10).

New wildlife refuge set in Flint Hills of Kansas

WICHITA (AP) About 1.1 million acres of some of the nation’s last tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas will be set aside for a new national wildlife refuge in a project that partners private landowners with conservationists.

“This is a template for the way conservation should occur in the 21st Century,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday.

While there will be other land acquisitions for preservation areas that are spectacular and need protection, the realities of protecting private property rights require tools such as the conservation easements used in the Flint Hills of Kansas to enhance that conservation agenda, Salazar said.

His comments came during the announcement of the creation of the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area, a new unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The event in Wichita was followed by the groundbreaking at a visitor center at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Strong City.

“What you have done here in Kansas is a 15-year partnership now brought to fruition with this declaration. … As we look around the country on how we protect very special places, we’ll look to Kansas and this area as an example for all of us to follow,” Salazar said.

Less than 4 percent of the once sweeping tallgrass prairie remains, with almost 80 percent of what is left in the world lying within the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma.

“Gradually we have been losing the prairie and we also have been losing farms and ranches. Those are a very real concern to those of us who have our roots deep in Kansas,” said Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “We have to find an economic way to make the Flint Hills viable in the future and conservation easements are one of those ways.”

The Flint Hills project uses voluntary, perpetual conservation easements that pays ranchers not to subdivide or commercially develop the land while allowing them to continue grazing their cattle and haying on the lush prairie that underlies the state’s agricultural heritage.

“These Flint Hills are very significant from a cultural aspect, also from an ecological aspect. And from the cattle industry viewpoint, it has … economic significance,” said Mike Beam, senior vice president for the Kansas Livestock Association.

Some half-million yearling calves and 125,000 cows graze each season out on the Flint Hills, Bean said. That produces some 230 million pounds of beef each year — some 1.2 billion servings of beef.

Fish and Wildlife officials were vague when pressed about the price tag for the preserve — other than saying it would cost “tens of millions” of dollars over the next 10 to 20 years and noting conservation easements cost 30 to 40 percent of outright land acquisitions.

Officials are “strategically targeting” — based on the value to wildlife — some 1.1 million acres for conservation easements on some out of some 3 million acres within the boundaries of the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area. Easements on some 60,000 acres are already under some type of conservation easement.

The funding will come from a variety of different sources including the Farm Bill and Agriculture Department conservation programs, some incentives within from the Fish and Wildlife Service and other tax incentives for placing land into conservation, Salazar said.

The project boundary includes nearly 45,000 acres of existing conservation areas managed by The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ranchland Trust of Kanas and the Kansas Land Trust.

The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area, which lies entirely in Kansas, is designed to preserve that habitat for more than 100 species of grassland birds and 500 plant species while maintaining stream water quality and protecting a way of life for Kansans.

Editor’s Note: The easements will protect the tallgrass prairie from wildlife habitat fragmentation created by ranchettes and wind farms. The conservation easements generally will not provide for public access unless the landowner agrees to such access.

Flint Hills Trail Update

The Superintendent of the Oz Division of Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, Doug Walker, reports he is waiting for funding (about $10,000) to finish up the 16-mile section of the Flint Hills Nature Trail between Osawatomie and Ottawa. He is also hoping to extend the trail east to a ball field in Osawatomie once the railroad grants an easement and funding is obtained. KRTC is considering taking legal action against two landowners and Miami County. One landowner has blocked the trail and another has encroached upon the trail. The County has failed to honor a contract to remove bridge abutments.

Owen Harbison, Marais Des Cygnes Division Superintendent, reports that once an agreement is concluded with BNSF for a railroad crossing, screenings can be laid west to Richter. Karen DeOrnellas, Lyco Division Superintendent, reports that one mile of screenings are down west of Road “F” at Bushong. She expects that the 11.5 mile section between Bushong and the Kaw Heritage Park southeast of Council Grove will be completed by summer. Then there will be a 22-mile continuous stretch between Admire and Council Grove. Neosho Valley Division Superintendent Scott Allen remarked that the Bushong to Kaw Park section is remarkably beautiful because it cuts right through the Flint Hills on a roadless eight-mile section.

Landon Nature Trail Update

John Purvis, Superintendent of the Landon Trail Division, reports that after five bridges are railed in Shawnee County and the trail section will be open. Also, Karl Umscheid was elected to the Board of Directors at the recent Annual Meeting of KRTC. Umscheid is a city of Overbrook employee and has been helping build bridges on the trail. He will be superintendent of the new Overbrook Division. Overbrook was a major stop on the Santa Fe Trail and the Landon Trail crosses the Santa Fe National Historic Trail at Overbrook. Trail ruts can be viewed at the Overbrook Cemetery.

Governor-Elect Brownback Supports Trail From Council Grove To Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Governor-elect Brownback recently stated at the groundbreaking of the new visitors at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve that he supports establishment of a trail from Council Grove 10+ miles to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Much of the area the trail would traverse is open range and the connecting trail could link up with the Flint Hills Nature Trail.

Kansas Trail NewsKansas Trail News is published monthly by Clark H. Coan, Public Information Specialist for Sunflower Recreational Trails, P.O. Box 44-2043, Lawrence, KS 66044, 785-842-3458. Reprinted with permission. If you have any trail news you’d like to share, please contact us.

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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web’s premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

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