Archive for Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Prairie plan to balance grasslands, grazing

Idea still needs approval, but has supporters

December 12, 2000


— A balance between the need to protect native grasses and ranchers' concerns about lost grazing is being struck in a plan for the tallgrass prairie preserve in the heart of the Flint Hills.

The plan answers the question of what would happen on the 11,000 acres in the Chase County. Since its creation in 1996, the park has raised concerns about federal ownership of the land and loss of native grasses to cattle grazing.

Working to develop the park and its use plan has been Paul Pritchard, president of the National Park Trust, a nonprofit conservation group that owns nearly all of the prairie park.

The plan awaits the approval by the park service's regional superintendent, according to park superintendent Steve Miller.

The blueprint preserves some of the land in native prairie, complete with tallgrasses and grazing bison.

But it also includes provisions for cattle grazing, part of the land's heritage, Miller said, and the role of American Indians. He anticipates such a park will draw 100,000 visitors annually.

The plan's definitions have allowed Pritchard and the National Park Trust to begin a fund-raising campaign to support the park. Gov. Bill Graves lent his support by declaring Nov. 12-18 as Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Week and encouraging "all citizens to participate in this program to share and protect this nationally significant parkland."

By design, the park is balance of public-private interest, with 10,894 acres owned by the land trust and up to 200 acres owned by the National Park Service.

The park trust pays property taxes, maintains the mortgage and pays other costs, Pritchard said.

He uses the land's value as a historic resource as a selling point for asking Kansans to get involved with fund-raising. The park is only large tract of National Park Service property in the region.

Thus far, a $160,000 gift was made to buy back part of the land's lease so that native prairie can be restored across the main house on the property, Pritchard said.

"But much more is needed to safeguard this precious resource for future generations," Pritchard said.

The park trust has made its own investment in the prairie, he said. The $3 million is more than it has spent on all other national parks.

"There's a limit to how much more we can fund," Pritchard said. "We're pretty much at our limit."

Barbara Zuhellen, western regional director for the park trust, said there was no specific goal for the capital campaign, but $4 million would cover paying off the mortgage, purchase parts of the cattle lease and build an educational endowment for the tallgrass prairie park.

Pritchard said the park trust would not abandon its role at the preserve, but a large public backing would make the park plan a reality.

He and Miller said additional funds would allow quicker repurchase of a cattle lease held by Texas billionaire Ed Bass. Under new agreements, however, Bass has altered his cattle-grazing regime and been cooperative with the park trust and the park service, Pritchard and Miller said.

Miller said tensions about the park's future have begun to subside and would continue to abate as more land was restored and the public began to enjoy its beauty.

"We're going to need a lot of help to make this happen," he said.

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