Projects Will Be Part of 50-State Report
Contact: Adam Fetcher, (DOI) 202-208-6416
WASHINGTON — Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country’s most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Kansas that will be included in the final report — representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.
Establishing the Flint Hills area as a new easement-based conservation area and a proposed Kansas River Water Trail are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week’s report — two in every state — as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. Sam Brownback and the state of Kansas, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.
“Under the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Kansas and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them,” Salazar said. “My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward.”
The two projects in Kansas highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:
Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area
Only three percent of the native-prairie grasslands that once stretched from Canada to Texas remain today. Establishing a new easement-based conservation area by working with key ranching community partners will protect up to 1.1 million acres of North America’s last landscape-scale tallgrass prairie. The Flint Hills area is also an important part of the conservation and recreation agenda of the State of Kansas. Rolling prairies provide ample hiking, biking, river, and equestrian trails. The state has partnered with a variety of government and private organizations to secure more than 70,000 acres of voluntary conservation easements in addition to 11,000 square miles that wind energy developers have agreed to conserve.
The Flint Hills plan calls for construction of the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, an education-focused visitor center for the NPS Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The plan also calls for campsite and cabin improvements along the Flint Hills’ trails, as well as development of a wetland-management plan to preserve crucial habitats. Kansas recognizes the importance of youth engagement and aims to create educational and interpretive opportunities throughout these facilities.
Kansas River Water Trail
The Kansas River, one of only three publicly navigable waterways in Kansas, flows for 170 miles through both urban areas and rural landscapes. The history of the Kansas River—sometimes locally known as the “Kaw”—includes significant events in the development and settling the nation. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery camped at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers in 1804 and noted that the river was “navigable for 80 leagues.” The river valley provided a route for overland migration to California and Oregon. The United States military used the river route to establish Fort Riley and as a supply route between other frontier posts, like Fort Leavenworth. Significant riverside historic sites open for visitors include Fort Riley, The First Territorial Capital, Historic Lecompton, Topeka, Kaw Point Park in Kansas City, and the Kansas History Center. The Kansas River historically linked these sites.
The Kansas River is a unique natural resource for Kansas and provides an attractive regional recreational opportunity. Over two million people live in the various cities and towns along the river, from the Kansas City metro area west to Junction City. The designation and development of a “Kansas River Water Trail” is a high priority for the Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism, and would be the state’s first public water trail. Historically, the lack of river access sites has limited paddle sports in Kansas and forced people to travel to other states for these pursuits. Currently, there are 17 developed public access points on the river and another under construction. Last year, Kaw River State Park opened to the public in Topeka. Even with these developments, there are gaps in desired access points, including one 37-mile segment, which is significantly more than the 10–15 miles required for day trips.
The report will also include potential actions by Interior and its bureaus to support the projects identified. In Kansas, for example, the Department could provide financial and technical assistance to increase access to the Kansas River. The Department could also provide technical and financial assistance to the state of Kansas toward construction of the Flint Hills Discovery Center, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Visitor Center, and campsite improvements.
The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus – including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.
“The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government’s role in conservation on its head,” Salazar said. “Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives."
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