Park Yourself in Paradise

Kansas state parks defy stereotype. In the southeast, Elk City State Park nestles in steep hillsides of the cross-timbered Osage Questas, the park and its adjoining reservoir surrounded by a dense jungle of oak, hickory, walnut, and a variety of other hardwoods. A hike through one of the area’s many trails imparts the full impact of the forest. Steep in places, the trails offer a mini-mountain hiking experience. At one point, you may be strolling through dense thickets of huge, ancient cedars, the forest floor so carpeted with cedar needles that you hardly make a sound. The experience is almost mystical.

At another point, you may find yourself climbing through a stone chute, solid rock jutting high above you on either side. As you exit this natural wonder, your breath is taken away by rocky bluffs and meadows bursting — if it’s late spring — with American columbine and a palette of other wildflowers. A few feet off the trail at many points, you find bluffs to sit and absorb a view of the 4,450-acre lake, surrounded by miles of lush green trees reflecting the glimmering water. Least flycatchers, painted buntings, tufted titmouse, and pileated woodpeckers are just a few species not normally found throughout much of the U.S. Hummingbirds are one of the most popular species with long-term park visitors, who often hang feeders near their campers for constant entertainment. And it’s not uncommon to see deer and turkey wondering through the campgrounds in this, or any, Kansas state park.

To the opposite extreme, anyone who has driven through far westcentral Kansas knows that K-96 is a long, flat, straight road. Passing through Scott City, most people never realize that one of the most stunning landscapes in the Midwest lies a mere 12 miles north of town at Lake Scott State Park. The area was carved when the great Rocky Mountains blasted skyward some 63 million years ago, propelling rivers and streams eastward, and with them, a deluge of rocky debris that laid immense sheets of sand and gravel over the arid landscape that eventually became a stone blank for the Great Sculptor. Seeps and streams continue to shape the landscape, slicing through a veneer of younger deposits, including a soft, limy cement called “caliche” that was used as mortar by early settlers.

The first permanent structure here was built by Taos Indians. Apparently fleeing Spanish oppression in New Mexico, these native people found a perfect place to settle in the arid High Plains about 1664. The canyon was protected from the sight-line of wandering enemies and the worst winter winds, and natural springs provided ample water year-round. They dug irrigation ditches to water crops and built the northernmost pueblo in the United States, the remains of which may be viewed in the state park.

Today, a 100-acre spring-fed lake graces the canyon in which Lake Scott State Park is nestled. If one were to suddenly snatch L. Frank Baum’s “Dorothy” from her bland silver screen farm into this environment instead of Oz, she still would likely say, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.” She would be as mistaken as the movie studios.

What about northcentral Kansas? The Smoky Hills are as ruggedly beautiful as landscape comes. Highway 24 twists and dips the 8 short miles from Stockton, north of Hays, to the Webster State Park, comforted on the south by trees feeding off the Solomon alluvium and buffeted on the north by Dakota sandstone, limestone, and chalk bluffs. As you round a curve, your eye may catch an old limestone cellar nestled in a hill next to the road, a lone yellow arch surrounded by little bluestem and gamma grasses, as if embedded there just to see if it could be done. No other structure remains to tell its story. Such landmarks are common points to ponder near Kansas state parks, but the park itself its the story. Climb the rise as the road crosses just north of Webster Dam, and the landscape opens to the shimmer of Webster Reservoir, some 3,800 acres of crystal clear water, a god-sized diamond pressed into the rugged High Plains.

These are just three of 26 state parks managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), and each one is unique in its own multi-faceted beauty. All are much more than just places to park a camper or pitch a tent. Most provide utility and primitive camping, and access to reservoirs, trails, and wildlife areas. A few are preserved natural areas, allowing visitors to enjoy unspoiled wild Kansas. Many parks host annual events such as concerts, festivals, and competitions. Whatever your outdoor interest — hiking, camping, wildlife observation, fishing, boating, bike riding, horseback riding, hunting, or just plain relaxing, a Kansas state park has what you’re looking for.

In addition to the above activities, park staff schedule a variety of special events to enhance the state park experience. Some events are in conjunction with Free Park Entrance Days; some celebrate a special historical event or geological attribute of an individual park; and others are just for entertainment. From Tuttle Creek State Park’s annual “Country Stampede,” featuring the biggest acts in country music, to more neighborly events such as Lovewell State Park’s annual Sand Castle Contest, Kansas state parks tender events for every sensibility. Marathon races, boating courses, equestrian rides, and much more are tailored to meet seasonal and visitor interests. Many are educational, and all make visiting Kansas state parks exciting.

For a number of years, KDWPT has put emphasis on developing and maintaining trails at state parks and adjacent wildlife areas. Currently, the agency maintains 480 miles of recreational trails, enhancing the economic and environmental value of the Sunflower State’s park system. Kansas trails provide a wide range of benefits. Many trails have historic value, tracing the footsteps of pioneers such as Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, and John C. Fremont. Trails also provide people with a better appreciation for wildlife and natural resources. They put people close to flora, fauna, and natural geological formations that roads and highways just can’t access. Not the least of trail benefits is personal health. Studies show that walking and bicycling can condition the heart and lungs, reduce weight, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And the natural settings of Kansas state park trails provide a renewing of the spirit and peace of mind seldom found in the urban landscape.

For those who prefer the comforts of home in a park environment, state parks offer more than 90 cabins across the state, located at 20 state parks and five wildlife areas. The cabins offer a wide range of amenities. Deluxe cabins feature heating and air conditioning, and most have furnished kitchens with refrigerators, stoves, microwaves and coffee pots, as well as separate bedrooms and full bathrooms with showers. Basic sleeper cabins are more rustic with fewer amenities. Most cabins can sleep four to six adults while others can sleep as many as 10 adults. About half of the cabins are ADA accessible. Nightly rental rates vary depending on location, season, day of the week and available amenities. Reserve your cabin online at reserve.ksoutdoors.com. You can review cabin amenities, check prices and availability, and reserve a cabin up to a year in advance. Online instructions guide you through the reservation process.

Natural environments few who have visited the Sunflower State can imagine, exciting activities statewide, and staff ranked among the friendliest and most dedicated in the United States: that’s what you’ll find when you visit a Kansas state park. What are you waiting for?

by J. Mark Shoup
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

NOTE: For a complete listing of Kansas state park rules and regulations, contact a state park office or KDWPT, 512 SE 25th Ave., Pratt, KS 67124-8174, or phone 620-672-5911. Complete regulations are also available at the KDWP website, ksoutdoors.com.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 25th, 2013 at 4:01 pm and is filed under Health and Wellness, KRPA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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