Monday, February 24, 2014

Back to Nature

Near the confluence of  the Rattlesnake Creek and the Arkansas River in central Kansas, water remains the great driver of a diverse complex of salt marsh and unique native sand prairie community that is Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The combination of these productive habitats as well as the refuge's mid-continent location continue to attract millions of birds needing to replenish essential reserves and to find protection in the mosaic of largely open grasses, sedges, rushes and water. 

For visitors, each moment is unique -- the smell of the moist earth and salty air, the primitive call of a crane, the whispering bluestem, the cacophony of geese, the early steps of a snowy plover chick or the discovery of a subtle pattern or design in nature.
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Environmental Assessment

Bricks and mortar build towns. The buildings and critical services anchor us to the communities we call home. Sometimes, the buildings are more than utilitarian, like the architectural treasures that are the Stafford library and the Stafford United Methodist Church. Sometimes, memories are built at soda fountains, like that at the Stafford Mercantile.

But another of our local attractions celebrates change. Each visit to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is just a little bit different as the sky, the wind and the seasons collide in new and spectacular ways.

Stained glass windows at the library and the church are gorgeous. But it's tough to rival God's very own light show. It's different every time.
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway, which encompasses parts of Barton, Stafford, and Reno counties in central Kansas. (It's just one of a system of 11 byways that dot the state of Kansas.) Quivira is located just a few miles from our farmstead. 
The Spanish word "Quivira" is a form of the Native American name, "Kirikuru," which is what local people called themselves when the Spanish explorer Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado visited the region in 1541 in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Instead of gold, he found grasslands and wildlife. After his expedition left, only a few trappers and explorers came to the area until the mid-1800s.

The General Land Survey was conducted in the region in 1871, evaluating its suitability for farming and grazing. One surveyor noted:
Section 17, T22S, R11W (2 miles weest of what is now the Migrants' Mile area): "All pure sand without any vegetation. All hills and hollows. Constantly drifting. Worthless."
The first European settlers came to Stafford County in the 1860s. By 1876, a few people located near the Big Salt Marsh. A company was organized for the purpose of manufacturing salt, which was soon found to be unprofitable. Homesteaders began using the marshes and grasslands for pastures, hay land and cattle production. Besides agricultural uses, the salt marshes were used for commercial and recreational waterfowl hunting after the turn of the 20th century.

In May 1955, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved the establishment of the Great Salt Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to recognize two unique, historic salt marsh and salt flat areas, the Big Salt Marsh and the Little Salt Marsh. In 1958, the name was changed to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge after the Spanish term for the area. The refuge consists of 22,135 acres in Stafford, Rice and Reno Counties.

It's a stopping point for migratory birds.
But you can see lots of other animals during an afternoon drive, including deer ...
and a turtle who must have lived a hard life, if his shell is any indication.
The refuge hosts educational events like Monarch Mania, which I visited for the first time last fall. (I shouldn't have waited so long for something that happens each year, practically in my own backyard.)
For more information about Quivira, visit their website. There's a Visitor's Center located at the south end of the Refuge, overlooking the Little Salt Marsh. Our own toddler tour guide, Kinley, provided a look at Quivira when she visited the farm last fall. Normal hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM to 4 PM, but it is sometimes open on weekends during spring and fall.
Call the Refuge, 620-486-2393, during weekly business hours to get any updates on operational hours.

** Historical information was taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Environmental Assessment, a 263-page document.

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