Unique habitat sets Southeast Kansas apart

There’s no place in Kansas like Southeast Kansas. This corner of the state was once primarily rolling fields of prairie grasses with wooded areas only along creeks, sitting on the edge of the Ozark Plateau. But, it was the search for coal that created a unique man made habitat that now attracts outdoor enthusiasts.

Decades ago, electric shovels pushed topsoil aside to get to the underground bed of coal, leaving behind steep rocky hill ranges surrounding deep pits.

Known locally as “strip pit lakes”, some were left to naturally become woodlands with dense vegetation, others were planted with warm season native grasses, and low laying areas were designed to create wetland type habitat. Stocked with a variety of fish the unusual contrasting natural environments in a close proximity attracts a diverse range of upland birds, waterfowl, wildlife, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Work by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) has made public access easier and safer at these strip pit likes, while also improving them through prescribed burns, native grass restoration, water level management, wildlife plantings, and adding habitat structures to the lakes.

“Reclamation work on Mined Land Wildlife Area over the years has improved safety, habitat and access for outdoor enthusiasts,” says David Jenkins, Public Lands Manager for the KDWPT. “More acres along with all the renovations have created more opportunity for our hunting and fishing community.”

Local kayaker Jacob Ward says paddling the area provides a unique experience with an abundance of wildlife not seen elsewhere in the state, and scenic views like the rock cliffs at Crawford State Park and the diverse plant life that flows along the edges of the banks on the strip pit lake areas.

“The fish are always healthy and have beautiful coloring every time I reel one in,” Ward says. “You clearly see the care and love put into the parks. The park staff is always so excited and welcoming, and the parks are so well maintained which makes kayaking and fishing so much more enjoyable.”

“Pittsburg is located on the edge of prairie and the Ozarks giving it unique geography for any kind of cycling adventure on pavement, gravel or trail,” says Roger Lomshek, organizer of the Gorilla Century Fun Bike Ride. “Head north or east and within a few miles you hit the rolling Ozark Mountain foothills for miles and miles of exploration. Southern or western routes give you low traffic, flatter roads to explore the beauty of open prairie and farmland. Mountain bike riders can spend a fun hour at the 23rd Street Bike Park in central Pittsburg or Wilderness Park on the north edge of Pittsburg, or an afternoon on the longer seven-mile, technical trail at Crawford State Park at Farlington Lake.”

“There is quite a variety of trail and terrain types,” says ultramarathon runner Zach Adams. “You can run or ride on hilly and rocky single track, flat and fast gravel, long rolling hills on low traffic paved county roads, shady dirt roads cut through thick timber, or wide-open prairie.”