By Lawrence Journal-World, July 23
The harsh environment of the Kansas prairie has taken a toll on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City.
Hopefully, like the pioneers that settled this area, the preserve will persevere and survive.
In the last year, the preserve has been struck by a series of problems that have limited visitor access to the historical sites as well as the adjacent Flint Hills prairie. Fixing some of those problems will be expensive, and it’s unclear when or if that money will be available. In the meantime, visitors still are welcome at the preserve, but their experience will be far different than it was in the past.
Last summer, heavy rains washed out parts of the historic ranch road making it unsafe for use by buses carrying tourists through the property. That road remains closed, according to the preserve’s website. The road was never designed to carry large tour buses, it says, and the park service is looking at how it might be rerouted or shored up for future use.
If you come to the park, you also won’t be able to visit the iconic ranch house. Last summer’s rains triggered a mold problem in the house, and, when repairs were being made, electrical problems and termites were discovered. Some boards on the house’s trim were so rotted contractors could stick their fingers through them. The house was deemed unsafe for visitors and the website says it may not reopen for several years. A park official told a Wichita newspaper that needed work, which includes lifting the house’s foundation, could cost “a couple million or more dollars.”
Planned construction on floor boards and joists also is restricting access to the three-story stone barn and other structures at the ranch this summer.
The trails at the preserve are still open to hikers, but not without a cautionary note. No one has been injured, but because some younger male buffalo have been charging at visitors, the preserve has issued a warning to hikers to stay on designated trails and keep their distance from the creatures.
In fact, the preserve’s website includes a whole page of alerts and “current conditions” at the site that may affect visitors’ plans. It’s not a very welcoming display even though visitors still can access the preserve’s visitors center, hike to the historic schoolhouse or participate in nature and history programs.
This is a sad situation for a site that should be one of the state’s tourist gems. It preserves a unique ecosystem and shares an important story about people who settled in this area as well as those who passed through on their way further west. We hope federal and state officials are giving this preserve and its current problems the attention they deserve and will quickly recommend solutions to restore public access to this historic and beautiful site.