on January 10, 2003
What to do:
The entrance to the park is right off the main road (Highway 177) and is easy to spot with the sign and the large limestone barn and house (plus Highway 177 is a small, two-lane, well-maintained, paved road so it's hard to get lost). At the gate where you enter on foot, there is a sign with loads of information. Don't miss the little metal box on the bottom left-hand side where you can pick up this self-guided walking tour pamphlet.
History of the park:
The park sits on nearly 11,000 acres but less than 200 of these acres are owned by the National Park Service (NPS). The rest are owned by a private conservation group called the National Park Trust. They keep the larger park up to the standards of the NPS and are responsible for raising the large number of private funds to buy and maintain the land. "The historic Spring Hill Ranch was purchased by the National Park Trust in 1994 and was renamed the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve when it became a unit of the National Park System in 1996. This park unit is unique for several reasons, one of them being that it is the only park unit authorized by Congress, on such a large scale, to be privately owned. In a first of its kind private/public partnership, the National Park Trust, a private, non-profit land conservancy, will retain ownership of all but 180 acres of the land that comprises the Preserve. However, the National Park Service is authorized to manage the entire 10,894-acre Preserve through a cooperative agreement with the Trust." (from the National Park Trust website)
The park was originally called "Spring Hill Ranch" after the spring located on the hill (behind the house), and was started in 1883 by a rich cattleman who moved here from Colorado. He had the limestone buildings built and over 30 miles worth of stone fencing since limestone is abundant in this area. He used the land mainly for cattle raising, but also had crops planted along the area near Fox Creek where he grew corn, oats, potatos, and sorghum. He moved to Kansas City only 5 years after moving to the ranch and after that the ranch switched hands many times. The owners who sold it to the National Park Trust in 1994 had named it the "Z Bar Ranch."
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