Nature Conservancy buys western Kansas rock formations

October 16, 2016

OAKLEY, Kan. (AP) — A valley of blonde-colored rock formations rising at some points 100 feet high will someday be open to the public, following the wishes of a man whose family has owned the land in western Kansas for at least five generations.

The Nature Conservancy of Kansas last week bought the 250 acres, known as Little Jerusalem, as part of a 330-acre tract of Niobrara chalk formations similar to the Badlands in South Dakota, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/2e3IMko). The area between Scott City and Oakley is the largest rock formation in Kansas.

“It’s such a unique piece of property, we wanted it open to the public and not turn (it) into a four-wheel drive park or a hunting resort someday,” said Jim McGuire, 67, whose family owns the rocks. “I wanted it so people could walk down in those rocks and enjoy someplace special.”

It’s unclear how the formation became known as Little Jerusalem, McGuire said.

Matt Bain, manager of the conservancy’s nearly 17,000-acre Smoke Valley Ranch, said the land was part of a giant sea 85 million years ago and events such as glacial periods, rain and wind erosion, caused the rocks to rise in certain spots. Explorers and travelers who crossed the Smoky Valley River Valley in the 1800s often mentioned the rock formations, Bain said.

Scientists have long studied and explored Kansas’ chalk formations, searching for fossilized shark teeth and complete aquatic dinosaurs. Wildlife watchers also frequent the formations, which attract ferruginous hawks, golden eagles and cliff kites.

Rob Manes, director of the Nature Conservancy of Kansas, said the group has long thought the rocks would be a good addition to the Smoky Valley Ranch. The ranch and Little Jerusalem share a half-mile of common boundary.

The price of the sale wasn’t made public. Manes said two people who are excited to have the area preserved donated most of the money for the purchase, which was funded through private donations.

As with nearly all of the 50,000 acres the conservancy owns in Kansas, the prairie amid Little Jerusalem will be leased for grazing rights by local ranchers.

“That’s also one of our main goals: to prove that good wildlife management and profitable ranching can exist hand in hand,” Bain said.

The conservancy has no timeline for opening the area to the public, but efforts will be made to protect the rock formation from damage.

“It will have to be foot traffic only,” Manes said. “That’s really such a very fragile area, with the soft rocks. Things could get damaged and destroyed too easily.”


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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