There are 6 miles of hiking trails open dawn to dusk at the Konza prairie.
Konza Biological Research Station There are 6 miles of hiking trails open dawn to dusk at the Konza prairie. © Chris Helzer/TNC

Places We Protect

Konza Prairie Biological Station

Kansas

Konza Prairie hosts decades of research on the tallgrass prairie ecosystem while welcoming visitors to experience the beauty of the Flint Hills.

Konza Biological Research Station is located in the northern Flint Hills region of Kansas. It is primarily owned by The Nature Conservancy and operated as a field research station by Kansas State University's Division of Biology. The Konza ecosystem contains forest, claypan, shrub and riparian communities in addition to the dominant tallgrass. Konza is dedicated to long-term ecological research, education, and prairie conservation.

Why the Flint Hills?

Tallgrass prairie once covered more than 170 million acres, from Canada through Texas and as far as Ohio in the east.  Rich prairie soils made the region prime for agricultural development. Most of the tallgrass prairie was converted to cropland within just a couple of decades, making this once expansive landscape North America’s most altered ecosystem in terms of acres lost.  Of the roughly 4 percent that remains today, most (about two-thirds) survives in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma.

Alternating layers of chert (flint) found in the limestone gave the Flint Hills region its name.  The preserve and surrounding Flint Hills were spared from the plow because it was too rocky.  Because the land couldn’t easily be farmed, homesteaders soon found that the region was best suited to cattle ranching.  Ranching continues to dominate the local economy and is the primary agricultural use of the Flint Hills.

One of the Most Diverse Ecosystems In the World

Tallgrass prairie is an incredibly diverse ecosystem.  The preserve is home to over 500 species of plants.  Prominent grasses such as big bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, and little bluestem appear to dominate the plant community; however, they are far outnumbered by the diversity of herbaceous plants (wildflowers).  Fauna ranges from large grazing animals like deer, bison, and cattle to a multitude of insects, amphibians and reptiles and other animal life.  Grasslands birds, like greater prairie-chicken (a type of grouse), which have lost much of its native habitat, are of particular interest.

Partnering with Kansas State University

The Nature Consrevancy had long wanted a tallgrass prairie preserve in the Flint Hills, but didn't have an office or staff in Kansas. In 1971, Kansas State University professor Lloyd Hulbert worked with TNC and the then-anonymous philanthropist Katherine Ordway to purchase 916 acres at Konza and established the special relationship with K-State to manage the land for TNC. By 1977, another 7,700 acers was added to the preserve and it was named Kona Prairie Biological Research Station.

The long-term ecological research at Konza was first funded by the National Science Foundation in 1980. Since its inception, this program has focused on fire, grazing and climatic variability - the three criticlal and interactive drier that affect grasslands worldwide. More than 100 scientists from around the world have research projects on-site at  Konza.

Visiting Hours

Six miles of hiking trails are open daily from dawn to dusk. The trails are moderate with occasional steep climbs, uneven footing and narrow pathways. The trails are sometimes closed due to wet weather or planned burning. Pets and bikes are not permitted.

 

Trails

All three trails begin at the same place. $2 contribution is appreciated.

Nature Trail Loop: winds through lowland gallery forests, crosses Kings Creek and climbs over ancient limestoneledges until it reaches upland tallgrass prairie. Allow minimum 2 hours to enjoy this round 2 1/2 mile round-trip hike. Download the Nature Trail Guide

Just off this trail is the Hokanson Homestead, settled by Swedish immigrants in 1878. The homstead features an original limestone barn and other foundations as well as a wildlife observation lean-to and outdoor seating area.

Kings Creek Loop: allow 3 1/2 hours to enjoy 4.4 mile round-trip hike

Godwin Hill Loop: allow 4 1/2 hours to enjoy 6 mile round-trip hike.

 

What to See: Plants

Native tallgrass prairie vegetation dominates Konza, including big bluestem grass, little bluestem grass, Indiangrass and switchgrass. Konza Prairie has retained its natural characteristics, and more than 600 species of flora have been documented there, including  a diverse array of grasses that typically grow three or more feet tall. Wildflowers presenting stunning spectrums of color can be seen from April to September, but May and June are the peak times see them in their greatest abundance and variety.

 

What to See: Animals

Several dozen species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and more than 200 species of resident and migratory birds have been documented on the preserve.

 

School Tours

The Konza Environmental Education Program (KEEP) offers educational programs for school groups. Trained volunteers ("docents") will lead your group in an activity that highlights the biology, geology, ecology, and history of the tallgrass prairie. To schedule a guided visit, please call (785) 587-0381 or email keeped@ksu.edu.