Tallgrass Prairie

(Frank) Today on Around Kansas we are in the beautiful prairie of Kansas, more specifically the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve located right off of Highway 177 in Strong City. This is a must see for nature lovers and history buffs alike. So enjoy as we take you around and show off this Kansas treasure.

Closed Captioning brought to you by Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Frank) A beautiful day on the prairie and speaking of prairie, we’re at the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve which is just a little bit north of Strong City and we’re talking with Heather Brown and, Heather, tell us a little bit about how all this got started. (Female) Well a lot of people came together with the idea of building, you know, preserving the Tallgrass Prairie and that’s what we’re here for, we’re about, preserving and protecting not only for this generation, but for the future generations as well because at one time, there was over a hundred and seventy million Tallgrass Prairie acres in this country. Today, there’s less than four percent remaining, so it’s really important and that was one key element that was missing from the National Parks Service and, so, basically in 1996, we became part of the National Park Service and we’ve been with them ever since. (Frank) Yeah, this was created in 1996, but am I correct in saying that then Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum was very instrumental in getting the movement started? (Female) You are correct. She was the one to help draft the legislation and this kind of had a rocky start, but we’re much, you know, we’re much better than what we were in those times. A lot of people had a lot of oh, uncertainties, you know, the fear of the unknown and everyone can understand that because the idea of the preserve was over a hundred thousand acres and, of course, this preserve is just under eleven, you know, this ranch is just under eleven thousand, so locally, you know, people would think, Well where is the rest of this acreage coming from? So a lot of the fear of the unknown, but Nancy Landon Kassebaum, you know, Baker, she and other folks were involved with writing legislation to kind of allay, you know, those fears that were coming forth and a couple of things is that the National Park Service, the federal government will never own any more than a hundred and eighty acres and even today, we only have
about thirty-five acres and that’s really probably all we’re ever going to really need, you know, especially now that we have a Visitor’s Center. (Frank) Now it’s also interesting that we were looking at a map of the many
trails that are here. There are all kinds of trails and when we come back, we’ll talk a little bit about that.

(Frank) Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the trails. How many miles of trials are there here? (Female) Well you’re not going to believe this, but there’s over forty miles of hiking trails out here. There’s something pretty much different everywhere you go. (Frank) Wow. So somebody could literally come here and spend a week. (Female) They could, they could. (Frank) Really. So the Tallgrass Prairie itself, I mean, right now, we’re here in early spring and the grass is beginning to grow and is there a particular height that the Tallgrass gets to? (Female) It does and, you know, I’m glad you asked that because that’s probably the most important question and the often asked question that we receive every day is, you know, You’re Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, where’s the tall grass? Well Mother Nature doesn’t work quite like that. It takes a full season for it to reach its height and in a good year when we have enough moisture in the fall in the Upland Prairie, it will reach about waist high. In the Bottomland Prairie, often it will reach over your head, so, but it takes a full season. Think of it as being tall in the fall. (Frank) Okay, great. When we come back, we’re going to take some more tour of this preserve.

(Frank) We’re in front of the barn, but it really doesn’t do justice as to its size, so let’s say we go inside and take a look? I must tell you, the TV camera’s really not going to do justice to the enormity of this particular barn, but tell us a little bit more about this barn. (Female) Well it was originally built in 1882 and it is, like you said, it’s a magnificent piece of cultural history here. There are three floors and the entire barn measures one hundred and ten feet by sixty feet, so that’s the massive size of this barn. It’s been used differently down through the years. Like I said, Mr. Jones started here early on in 1878, but he started building the barn in 1881, it was completed in 1882. As we were coming through, we saw the ramps outside where actually the wagons could come up to the ramps, drive up and go into the top layer and when Mr. Jones had the barn originally built, it was all opened upstairs, so they stored hay which was loosely stored hay and they also had one grain bin up there as well, so you could go up and enter and then go out the outside through the other door, so it was all one big, open space, but it’s not that way today. The barn’s been retrofitted over the years according to who was using it and owned the property at the time. (Frank) What’s fascinating is this barn is completely built of native stone, is that correct? (Female) That’s correct. It’s from the Funston layer of limestone and he actually built is using the resources, natural resources from his ranch. So what you see, it’s all original building and I would have loved to have been here when it was being built back in 1882. (Frank) Yeah. Any idea how many people it took to build this? (Female) Well that’s a great point because our historic newspapers, we learn a lot from them. It’s amazing what is being reported. It actually talks about twenty men working around the clock building these buildings and, so, imagine what it was like, this was before the electricity came in, so, so much activity that people passing by though that they had already made it to Strong City and tried to put up here for the night, so lanterns and a lot of activity, so roughly twenty people. (Frank) Twenty people, wow. I must say, you’ve got to come see this thing. We’ll be back.

(Frank) Now as you had said, there’s like eleven thousand acres here. Well as you can see behind us, this is the Bottomland that you talked about. Tell us about that. (Female) Sure. You know we have Upland Prairie and we
have Bottomland Prairie as well and the entire preserve, it you were to look at it, it looks like a giant capital letter L, but when Mr. Jones was here, you know, he started out with basically a hundred and sixty acres right across the road here and he grew his ranch to a hundred or excuse me, seven thousand acres, but our future plans is actually to put back a small portion of the cultural landscape that he had. He named his ranch the
Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch, so it’s a farm and a ranch. He farmed in the bottomland, which is basically the area just adjacent to a river or a stream because of the deep soils, but he also had the Upland Prairie here too so he could actually graze cattle on the grass. So if you were to imagine right across here, he had orchards and vineyards and gardens. We’re hoping to put some of that cultural landscape back, but he also farmed here in the Bottomland which he grew corn and wheat, barley and, you know, crops, row crops and he also had potatoes, Irish potatoes, you know, it was quite an amazing place and that’s again, all from the census records that we have. (Frank) Wow. (Female) So, yeah. (Frank) OK, we’re moving closer to the house and one house, in particular, we’re going to stop at is the outhouse. Come on. And here we are, we’re at the all-important outhouse. (Female) Well actually we call it Little Privy on the Prairie, so, but it has a couple of unique features. Of course, number one, it is made of limestone which most outhouses were out of wood, but obviously it was built to last and it also has three holes which is really unusual, so people often come to just see that as well. (Frank) Okay. Let’s take a look inside. Another unique structure, of course, made of limestone and it is? (Female) It’s called the Curing house. It’s not really a smokehouse. They’re actually using salt brine to actually cure meat and then in the rafters, there are places where you can actually hang hams and things. (Frank) Behind us here is the icehouse, again, limestone, but tell us about the Icehouse. (Female) Well it’s a very unique feature here to this ranch. Mr. Jones was wealthy enough; he could actually have ice year-round, which was often unheard of. So what he would do is take the ice from the Cottonwood River and then pack it in sawdust and also prairie hay and then as needed, he would go up to the Icehouse and take off what he needed. (Frank) Well, and I see we’re kind of in the midst of some tall grass here. (Female) Tall grass. (Frank) Another interesting feature here is the Chicken house. (Female) It is. It’s quite a site. It’s great because it actually blends in with the landscape and you’ll see the sawed roof on top. We use that actually in our Visitor’s Center and we’ll talk about that a little bit later, but this is kind of like the Cadillac Chicken house. Inside, it actually is the windows are in the front and it actually has vents in the top for airflow for better egg production, so he thought of everything, Mr. Jones did.

(Frank) Here we are in front of the grand ole house and maybe the camera will show you the 1881. (Female) It built and finished in 1881, but two years after Mr. Jones arrived, he started building this massive structure,
so in late 1880, he started with the twenty men working around the clock that we talked about earlier and by late 1881, it was complete, but it was quite a showpiece. (Frank) Yeah. Tell us about some of the rooms in it and
there are three stories or four? (Female) Well it was basically four levels, eleven rooms, and four levels. It’s also the second empire style architecture. It also mimics what you’ll see at the Court House. The Court House was built first in 1873, but this was built later by the same architect, same builder, David Rettinger. Inside you’re going to see two parlors in the front of the house, a little foyer in the middle and then you’d go up a short step layer to the kitchen area that was originally there and upstairs, you’d have the dining room, the butler’s pantry, the living room space and then on the very top floor, there were three bedrooms and bathtub area, not a toilet, which we saw the toilet outside, but bathtub area inside. (Frank) I would think that where this house sits up on the hill and from the bottoms that, especially in the summer would be nice and cool with the breeze. (Female) It is very cool out here. There’s also a breeze blowing as you can see today, but the house actually sported a skylight, so that helped draw the hot air from downstairs and up and out through the house. There’s quite a ventilation system through the house. (Frank) Well I know when you walk through it, started at the bottom and by the time got to the top, there was a huge temperature change. (Female) There is a difference in the temperature, you’ll see that and a lot of times, and you’d think that limestone would be a really good insulator. It’s really actually not. In the summertime, it does actually get pretty hot downstairs and in the wintertime, it does get cool, pretty cool down
there as well, but again, it’s that whole ventilation system. Again, he utilized his resources and the knowledge base for the time. (Frank) Well, and that’s something because there’s a story in the house about the cistern
that’s here and the spring water and how it was used. Can you kind of elaborate on that? (Female) Sure. Mr. Jones, like I said, he utilized the springs that were found on the hill behind the house and, so, the water was piped down through the house. It was quite an underlining or underground system of pipes here, so it was piped into the root cellar, went through the kitchen and down to the spring room which was basically their refrigerator room and from the old newspapers, it actually talks about being vessels of milk, butter and cheese being inside the root cellar or excuse me, the spring room and then from there, the water flowed down and around, went into a cistern and then it was collected there, went down on this layer right here which went right into the fountain which is where the little girl actually held gold fish, but from that point, it went down, around into the orchards that were down here in the Bottomland. It’s quite an intricate little system he had going. (Frank) Wow.

(Frank) What a fascinating place this is, but we also need to locate it for people, so where is it in this vast prairie? (Female) Sure. We are located two miles north of the intersection of Highway Fifty and One-Seventy-Seven, which is also the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway. We’re roughly sixteen miles west of Emporia, Kansas and then two miles north up the road. (Frank) Okay and Council Grove is, what another thirteen or so? (Female) Yeah, seventeen miles to the north. (Frank) Okay and behind us here, that’s where everybody starts? (Female) That’s where they come to see, you know, basically come first to become oriented to the ranch and to the prairie. As you can see, the landscape the building blends right into the landscape and that was what it was built with in mind. So you come into the breezeway, turn left, you go into the south side of the building,
that’s our Visitor’s Center. The north side is basically offices. (Frank) There’s another feature here at the Reserve and that’s buffalo or is it bison? (Female) Actually truly it’s bison. Buffalo refer to water buffalo, so, but buffalo was a slang term for bison. It’s interesting because we actually have small herd. We were developing a small herd. Right now there are twenty head and we just recently had a baby, so that’s something pretty great to see here on the landscape. (Frank) Great. (Female) We also have bus tours, especially on weekends. People can come out and take a busy tour or they can go on their own and hike. (Frank) So again, people can come here for a couple of hours, couple days (Female) Couple days. (Frank) A couple of weeks. (Female) Yeah. It just depends on what you have time for, but like I said earlier, there’s something here for everyone. (Frank) So there you have it, a small video tour of this prairie preserve. It’s yours, but you really need to come here and see it to appreciate it, to appreciate its grandeur, its enormity, its quietness, its beauty, it’s Kansas.

Closed Captioning brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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