The tallgrass prairie formerly covered 170-million acres of North America, but today only 4% of that exists in a few isolated pockets due to conversion to agriculture. The Flint Hills of eastern Kansas were too rocky for tilling, so this was an ideal place to create Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in 1996. Occasionally, land managers utilize fire to support fire-adapted native grasses against invasive species. Before our visit in November 2014, large areas were burned. The bison that live here enjoy eating the fresh green grass that sprouts following a fire and wildflowers thrive with the release of available soil nutrients.
Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd
After reading the interpretive panels at the visitor center,
walk around the buildings next door at the historic Spring Hill Ranch. The 1881 ranch house is open for tours seasonally.
There are many trails that wander through the 10,894-acre
preserve that is jointly run by the Nature Conservancy and National Park
Service. Many loop options are possible,
but no backpacking is allowed, possibly due to the bison herd.
Just down the road from Spring Hill Ranch is the one-room Lower Fox Creek School which was open from 1884 to 1930. Its walls are made of local limestone.
Chase State Fishing Lake has 10 primitive campsites two miles outside Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. Several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds surround Council Grove Lake, which is located 20 miles north.
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The only National Park Service (NPS) site named for a court case. The one named started here in Topeka in 1951 when segregation was the law of the land. Five cases were consolidated when the issue escalated to the Supreme Court by 1954, when they finally overturned the 1896 ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson. In his decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “Separate education facilities are inherently unequal.”
Monroe Elementary School, Hall of Courage
Tour the former African-American-only Monroe Elementary School, restored to its 1950s appearance with some classrooms turned into exhibits on the civil rights movement worldwide. If you visit on a weekday, you might hear the halls filled with the sounds of children again, since it is a frequent fieldtrip destination.
Walking the Hall of Courage gives some idea of what it would have been like as an African-American student attending a desegregated school in the 1950s.
All paved with a designated NPS parking lot. Check the address (1515 SE Monroe St.) for Monroe Elementary School on the NPS website as our GPS sent us to the park headquarters inside Topeka’s main post office.
None at the site, but nearby Lake Shawnee Campground is run by the county.
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