Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today wrapped up a two-day tour of Kansas where he participated in events as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a conservation and outdoor recreation strategy built for the 21st century and to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
Today, Secretary Salazar joined Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to designate the Kansas River Trail as a National Water Trail. The designation seeks to increase opportunities for outdoor recreation along the river, encourage community stewardship, and promote tourism that fuels local economies.
"The Kansas River is one of the world's longest prairie rivers, providing countless recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat as well as drinking water, irrigation and electricity," Salazar said during an event at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. "With this designation, the Kansas River Trail will join a growing network of National Water Trails across the country that serve as catalysts to connect Americans to their local waterways and promote outdoor recreation and economic growth."
"The Kansas River is an important natural resource in our state and plays a significant role in the economies of numerous communities located along its river banks," said Governor Brownback. "This designation as a water trail will complement our ongoing efforts to develop and promote outdoor recreational opportunities in this great state of Kansas. Not only will we continue to encourage youth and adults to re-connect with nature through some of the best hunting and fishing in the nation, but we are now in a position to offer amazing hiking, biking, kayaking and horseback riding venues to compliment a variety of interests....sparking additional small business opportunities for entrepreneurs."
The Kansas River Trail, which follows the Kansas River for 173 miles, is one of nine National Water Trails designated so far under a secretarial order issued by Salazar earlier this year establishing the National Water Trails System as a class of national recreational trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968. The designation acknowledges not only the recreation values of the trails but also the excellent stewardship of the state, local communities and other partners who maintain their natural beauty and integrity. With the designation, the National Park Service will work with the state and local partners to provide resources that promote public use and improve access to the water trail.
Yesterday, Salazar joined Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to dedicate the new visitor center and headquarters at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
"Thanks to the spirit of partnership that is at the heart of the America's Great Outdoors initiative, we have a new headquarters and visitor center that opens a window to the expansive rolling hills and wide-open vistas that once covered 140 million acres of North America," Salazar said. "This is a place where visitors from across the country can learn about a vital part of economy, our history, and the power of communities to comes together to conserve this unique landscape for future generations."
"Over 15 years ago, a partnership was built across traditional boundaries to sustain and protect the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "While Governor of Kansas, I was proud to be an ardent supporter of federal funding for the Preserve so we could open this Visitor's Center today. Now, we can celebrate our heritage and fulfill our responsibility to protect, preserve and share these beautiful prairies for tomorrow."
Salazar underscored Interior's close partnership with the State of Kansas, which contributed $3 million of the $6 million used to construct the new center, and The Nature Conservancy, which owns the vast majority of the nearly 11,000-acre preserve and co-manages it with the National Park Service.
Today, less than 4 percent of the once-vast tall grass-prairie ecosystem remains, with nearly 80 percent within the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma.
In November, 2010 Salazar joined The Nature Conservancy, the State of Kansas, ranchers, and other stakeholders to announce the creation of the 1 million-acre Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area, the first national wildlife refuge created under the Obama administration.
Through the purchase of voluntary conservation easements from landowners, the refuge complements the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which was established in 1996, by conserving both prairie ecosystem and the traditional ranching heritage of the region.
"A major goal of the America's Great Outdoors initiative is to conserve working landscapes," Salazar said. "The new visitor center will educate the public about the rich ranching heritage of the tallgrass prairie and provide a living example of how conservation and working landscapes can successfully go hand in hand."
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located two miles north of Strong City on Kansas State Highway 177 (the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway) and is a private-public partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/tapr.