“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” -John Muir
If you’ve ever visited one of the 401 locations in the national park system, you know how powerfully beautiful and restorative a trip to the outdoors can be.
July happens to be “National Parks and Recreation Month,” and this is a perfect time to get outdoors to do some exploring, even if you’ve never ventured any farther than your own backyard.
Kansas offers several short trips to get a beginning trekker started.
The Konza Biological Preserve, located just southeast of town off McDowell Creek Road, offers six miles of hiking trails through native tallgrass prairie. At the highest points you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Flint Hills and might even spot a few members of a bison herd in the distance.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve presents opportunities for closer contact with bison, if you’re lucky, and more than 44 miles of trails through pristine prairie grasses. You’ll find this national park about two miles north of Strong City, along U.S. Highway I-77.
The visitor’s center has many resources to help you explore the park, including cell phone tours of the historic buildings on the site, a short orientation film, and books for sale.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center in downtown Manhattan is another wonderful place to start your journey. It has exhibits and interactive features to explore the geology, biology, and cultural history of the Flint Hills. Plus, they have a fun gift shop full of local products, artwork, and books by local authors.
Speaking of books, if you would like to find suggestions for exploration, naturalist inspiration, or if you prefer armchair travel, the library has a wealth of outdoor adventure books, both fiction and non-fiction, to aid in your quest.
If you are looking for a volume to carry with you, try one of the comprehensive plant identification books, such as “Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas” by Michael John Haddock (582.13). The detailed descriptions and great pictures will help you find everything from big bluestem to western yarrow.
Or, you might want to try a nice bird-watching guide. “The Sibley Guide to Birds” by David Sibley (598.097) is the most comprehensive book available. It features hundreds upon hundreds of detailed illustrations to help you identify every bird in North America. This book can be a little intimidating at first, but I suggest you dive right in and see what you can find. If you’re a budding naturalist, just start with the index and explore from there!
I would also suggest sampling some of the outdoor inspirational classics like the works of John Muir, located in the library at call number 508.794. His “Eight Wilderness Discovery Books” are available bound in one volume or in smaller groupings. They are fantastic reads, but probably won’t fit in your day pack!
For armchair adventure, I strongly recommend “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed (813.6). This memoir chronicles a young woman’s 1,100-mile journey alone along the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a heart-wrenching tale of struggle, sorrow, determination, and redemption that will leave you wondering how far you could push yourself if you tried.
After you visit the Tallgrass National Preserve, that still leaves about 400 more places to explore. If you’re planning a trip to another state, the library has handbooks and field guides available for many different regions, identifying plants, trees, birds, and insects. It’s a lot of fun to point out butterfly milkweed or old plainsman when you pass them in the field. Plus, you look pretty smart when you do!
You’ll also find maps of Kansas, local bike trails, local rivers, and much more when you visit the Manhattan Public Library. Have fun exploring the great outdoors!