Sharp hills and thin lakes dot a well-used 14,500 acres of land in Crawford and Cherokee Counties. The area is now a popular destination for hunting, hiking, camping, canoeing, wildlife viewing and mushroom and berry picking. But until the 1970s, the land was much like many others in Southeast Kansas: a mining operation.
Now known as the Mined Land Wildlife Area, the area emcompasses 13,000 acres of land and 1,500 acres of water whose unique characteristics were directly shaped by electric shovels digging for coal. On the wildlife area alone, these shovels left over 1,000 strip-mine lakes ranging in size from ¼ acre to 50 acres and up to 60 feet deep. Steep hills appear where overburden was moved to reveal the valuable coal beneath. After years of inactivity, native grasses have returned to 4,000 acres of the property. The rest is densely covered in bur oak, pin oak, walnut, hickory and hackberry with a thick understory of dogwood, green briar, honeysuckle, poison ivy and blackberry.
The combination of native grassland and dense forest provides great opportunities for local hunters. Whitetail deer, eastern turkey, mourning dove, bobwhite quail, fox squirrel, cottontails and waterfowl are harvested from the area during hunting seasons. Boat ramps on larger strip pits provide access for fishers looking to hook largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, and trout. Cabins are also available for rent year round for overnight stays.
As an attraction for 300,000 outdoor visitors each year, the Mined Land Wildlife Area is maintained by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. In the last 10 years, the KDWPT partnered with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to improve the property and reduce hazards caused by remnants of the area’s mining. To manage the property, the KDWPT oversees prescribed burns, wildlife plantings, native grass restoration and water level management. The property is managed with federal wildlife restoration money, state wildlife fee fund money and from agricultural income generated on the property.