Sure, it's cold right now. But before long, winter will give way to spring. And once again, you'll be able to linger longer in the great outdoors. For those of you eager to get back on your bike and ride down a new trail, Commentator Rex Buchanan has a recommendation.
Want even more? Check out this article and photos.
People often ask me about good places to see the Flint Hills. I usually send them to the hiking trails on the Konza Prairie at Manhattan, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve north of Strong City, or, if they’re in the mood for a drive, the road between Matfield Green and Madison.
Now I’ve got another idea. If they want to see the Hills on foot, bike, or horseback, I’d also recommend The Flint Hills Trail State Park, a new piece of the state park system in Kansas. It’s a trail from Osawatomie to Council Grove, built on a railroad grade that was abandoned in the 1980s. A segment of the trail from Council Grove west to Herington is still under construction, but when it’s done, the entire route will cover 117 miles, making it the seventh longest rail-trail in the U.S.
Right before Christmas, I biked the stretch from the town of Allen, on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills in Lyon County, to Council Grove, hand lunch, then biked back. About 22 miles each way, about right for a casual biker like me. The trail crosses metal bridges over clear Flint Hills creeks. The long, curved bridge over Rock Creek is especially graceful. The trail cuts through long stretches of pasture; steep limestone, shale, and chert roadcuts; and a couple of cattle gates. It goes through the Allegawaho Park owned by the Kaw Nation east of Council Grove, and just north of the Dunlap Colony site, home to exodusters who settled here in the 1870s.
Maybe the best part is, except for a few crossroads, there are no cars to contend with.
The day I rode the trail started with a full moon setting in the west, then a cold fog that blanketed the hills for much of the morning. The trail was dotted with deer tracks and coyote scat. For much of the ride, the only thing I heard was the crunch of my bike tires on gravel, maybe the trickle of a stream, some geese, and a slight breeze.
In a full day of riding, I met three other bikers.
You can get on or off the trail at several locations. At Ottawa, it connects with another Trail, the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail, that goes south to Garnett. I rode a stretch of that one afternoon last summer. It’s lots different from the Flint Hills Trail. More trees, flatter. But similarly empty. I didn’t see another rider all afternoon.
If you decide to check out the Flint Hills Trail, know that services are limited. There are towns every few miles, for the most part, but sometimes you’ll go long stretches without water available, so take some. The trail was plenty special on the warm winter day when I was there, but the weather might be better in the spring, when the wildflowers are probably pretty spectacular, or the fall, when the grasses take on a red hue.
Though the solitude is obviously one of its virtues, this trail deserves more attention, no matter the time of year. It provides a Flint Hills perspective that would be hard to get any other way.
So give it a try. Though you just might have to open, and close, a cattle gate or two.