First Privately Owned National Park Unit Enters New Phase
"Even when no one else was willing to take on stewardship of this land, the National Park Trust not only accepted the role of steward, but also helped bridge the gap between public and private interests to preserve this land for the public's benefit," - District Judge Lee Fowler
February 17, 2005
The National Park Trust this week officially transferred ownership of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to the Kansas Park Trust, concluding its 11 year ownership of the nation's first and only privately owned National Park unit. The Kansas Park Trust was formed in 2004 by a group that includes Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Kansas Park Trust will transfer the 10,894 acre preserve to the Nature Conservancy. In 2004, the Nature Conservancy received a $4.8 million gift from the estate of the late Frank and Francis Horton of Wellington, Kansas for the purpose of preserving the tallgrass prairie.
"The National Park Trust is dedicated to preserving endangered habitats such as the tallgrass prairie ecosystem of the Flint Hills," said the trust's chairman Paul Duffendack.
The National Park Trust, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, DC, acquired the 11,000 acre Z-Bar Ranch from Boatmen's Bank for $4.7 million in 1994, paving the way for the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve under legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
To finance the purchase of the land, the National Park Trust signed an agreement with Texas cattleman Edward Bass, who pre-paid a 35-year grazing lease and donated $1 million to the National Park Trust.
For decades, preservationists and politicians had sought to create a national park in the Flint Hills of Kansas, which encompasses the last remaining stand of tallgrass prairie habitat in North America. Opposition to federal land ownership stalled legislation until U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker brokered a compromise stipulating that the federal government could not own more than 180 acres and requested that the National Park Trust own the remainder of the preserve as a private party.
National visibility for the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has helped spur tourism in historic Chase County, Kansas, which includes the towns of Strong City and Cottonwood Falls. The National Park Trust has built trails, preserved historic buildings and donated them to the National Park Service, and has opened the property to public use. The Kansas Park Trust will include two representatives of the National Park Trust on its board.
"Despite all of the struggles involved in creating and maintaining the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, we have remained true to our mission and are pleased to report that we are leaving this property in better condition than when we purchased it," Duffendack said. "If the National Park Trust hadn't taken on this challenge, there wouldn't be a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve today."
District Judge Lee Fowler, who chairs the 13 member Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Advisory Committee, agrees. "Even when no one else was willing to take on stewardship of this land, the National Park Trust not only accepted the role of steward, but also helped bridge the gap between public and private interests to preserve this land for the public's benefit," he said.
"As we look forward to a new partnership with the Kansas Park Trust and the Nature Conservancy's Kansas Chapter, we will always be appreciative to the National Park Trust for the critical role they have played in the preserve's establishment and initial development" said Steve Miller, National Park Service superintendent of the preserve.
Paul Pritchard, president and founder of the National Park Trust, said that demand for lands within or adjacent to national parks is making the cost of preservation higher than ever before, straining the financial resources of conservation groups, who must vie with real estate developers and industry for ownership of at-risk open spaces.
"Most people are not aware that civilization is quickly encroaching on land that is located either inside the boundaries or right next door to state and national parks. Once these lands are developed or exploited for their natural resources, there is no going back," said Pritchard.
In the past 22 years, the National Park Trust has acquired more than 100 properties, which affected million acres of land - purchased from willing sellers using private funds - and either turned them over to the National Park Service or state park systems for the enjoyment of future generations.
More information can be found at the website of the National Park Trust www.parktrust.org or the National Park Service www.nps.gov/tapr/home.htm.
The preserve is located just north of Strong City and 17 miles south of Council Grove on the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, state highway 177.
Contact: Paul Pritchard, National Park Trust
(202) 548-0500 or (304) 876-1615