We are halfway across the country tonight after driving from Leave No Trace base camp in Boulder, CO, across Kansas and Missouri to Illinois (Benton). Early in the day we stopped off at the 8,600-acre Konza Prairie Nature Preserve near Manhattan, Kansas. The Konza Prairie is a virgin tallgrass prairie (never tilled) in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Peggy had read and heard a lot about the site, as it is a United Nations “Man and the Biosphere” site and jointly owned by the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University.
It is a beautiful preserve, well managed by KSU and a support organization of one hundred volunteers. We walked half of a loop trail before we came across Earl Allen, a volunteer and botany enthusiast who gave us an immersion course about the tallgrass prairie in record time. He shared his wealth of knowledge and answered questions about grasses and wildflowers, birds and reptiles, geology and history, and his enthusiasm for Konza was infectious.
At the end of our hike Earl invited us for a tour of the old stone barn and Dewey Ranch house and barn, built of Cottonwood limestone, beautifully restored a few years back to serve as education and research support facilities. Earl, upon hearing about our work with Leave No Trace, was eager to learn more about the “Packing with PEAK” and “Connect Grant” programs that are designed to support the kind of youth outreach programs that he will be involved with later in the summer at Konza Prairie. We left him with a packet of information about Leave No Trace and he left us with a new appreciation for the story of Konza and the dedication of the volunteers like Earl who are instrumental in preserving places of rare and endangered natural and cultural heritage like the native tallgrass prairie at historic Dewey Ranch.