The Konza Prairie, just outside of Manhattan, is part of a large swath of tallgrass prairie that runs through parts of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. Trails are open to the public, but recently Konza officials warned that they might close the trails if visitors don’t stay on them.
At 13.5 square miles, the native animals and plants sprawl out in the unplowed nature reserve. The Nature Conservancy and K-State study the area surrounding the trails.
“The problems were mostly around the nature trail,” said John Briggs, director of the Konza Prairie. “We had a record number of people at the Konza and a small percentage not following the rules.”
Visitors must stay on the trails, and they must not bring pets, ride bikes, litter, or go in the water.
“Konza is a research site first,” Briggs said. “We impose these rules to preserve the integrity of the research area.”
Biggs said the two biggest broken rules are people going off the designated trails and bringing pets. After officials made the announcement, Briggs said he saw improvements.
“Two events helped us,” he said. “The first was the university was let out for summer and there were fewer people. The second was a massive flood closing down the nature trail.”
The nature trail closed for repairs to a bridge that was damaged after a tree fell on it during a storm. The tree caused enough damage that the trail was closed for three weeks for repairs.
“We don’t know what else to do,” Briggs said. “We talked about surveillance cameras and more patrolling of the area, but those things cost money, and this is coming at a time of heavy budget constraints.”
The main goal of the Konza Prairie is to preserve the area, he said.
“The trail is not our main mission,” Briggs said. “I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m not going to switch funds from things that need it to monitor people.”
People who see any major violations are encouraged to call K-State police, who help patrol the area. For minor problems, Briggs hopes people will help out when they can.
“For little stuff, if you just politely ask people to stop, most of the time they will stop,” he said. “Peer pressure is one of the best tools out there.”
A donation box near the trailhead raises funds to help preserve Konza Prairie. Briggs estimates that “only 20 or 30 percent of people donate.” The nature trail will be open for hiking from sunrise to one hour after sunset.
“I am nervous and a bit anxious for the fall and the spring this year,” he said. “Closing it down would be a last resort, but there are few options left.”