Protecting the Vast Tallgrass Prairie
Over the past 30 years, the National Park Trust has preserved thousands of acres of parklands for our country. One that stands out is the former Spring Hill Ranch located in the Flint Hills of Kansas. For many decades, the National Park Service had identified the country’s tallgrass prairie ecosystem as an important “missing piece” of the National Park System. Then, during 1990 and 1991, the National Park Service conducted a special resource study which concluded that the Spring Hill Ranch was a nationally significant example of the tallgrass prairie, and would be ideal to fill that gap in our National Parks.
As a result in March 1994, NPT purchased the 10,894 acre Spring Hill Ranch in Kansas. In purchasing the ranch, NPT assured that there would be permanent protection of this vast Flint Hills property, with its acres of rolling grasslands, streams, a landmark 19th century mansion and stone barn, and its historic one-room schoolhouse on a grassland hill.
NPT worked to see the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve authorized and established by an act of Congress as a unit of the National Park System in 1996. The law specifically recognized NPT as an owner and steward of this important new parkland, one which would work cooperatively with the Park Service to manage the ranch to conserve its scenery, wildlife, natural and historic objects, and its accessibility to thousands of park visitors. Working within restrictions of the law that limited National Park Service ownership to only 180 acres of this Park, NPT then took action to donate all of the historic buildings and grounds directly to the Park Service, while continuing to own and help oversee the vast remaining portion of the Preserve.
In 2005, NPT transferred its ownership of the Preserve to Kansas Park Trust, a local land trust established by NPT and guided by key political leaders of the State of Kansas, such as then Governor Kathleen Sebelius, former Governor Mike Hayden and former Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker. Kansas Park Trust subsequently funded the construction of the new Tallgrass Prairie Visitors Center at the Preserve.
NPT’s legacy as owner of the Preserve is now carried on by The Nature Conservancy. Over the past two decades of private stewardship of this public park, history has been preserved, bison have been reintroduced, trails and interpretive markers have been added, and many thousands of Americans have enjoyed a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve experience.
Ray Sherbill, an NPT board member who worked extensively on this project stated, "Today the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is an important and vital part of our National Parks and an awesome example of the vast prairies that once covered much of North America’s interior.Working on the creation of this Preserve was a wonderful lesson in park stewardship, a lesson we hope NPT can share with many others in the future.”