While Little Jerusalem is not open to the public, Smoky Valley Ranch provides many other examples of how human and natural histories are so deeply interwoven they are inseparable. The public is invited to experience the prairie, its history, its conservation, and the scenic vistas through the use of hiking and horse trails on the west side of Smoky Valley Ranch. (Download a map of hiking and horse trails.) A small parking area and the trail head is located on County Road 350, between Plains Road and Indian Road.
Media and other inquiries should be directed to the Conservancy’s Topeka, Kansas office at (785) 233-4400.
Why did the Conservancy purchase Little Jerusalem?
To protect the dramatic geologic formations, archeological features and unique plant and animal communities. And for people to experience, enjoy and understand the natural beauty of the area.
Little Jerusalem provides a tremendous opportunity to connect people to the wonders of the prairie. It is a one-of-a-kind landscape in Kansas and the state’s largest Niobrara Chalk formation. These chalk badlands provide unique and important habitat for ferruginous hawks, cliff swallows, Say’s phoebe and rock wrens, as well as many native amphibians and reptiles. Little Jerusalem is also home to the single largest population of Great Plains wild buckwheat, an endemic plant that is found in the chalk bluffs prairie of western Kansas and nowhere else in the world. In addition to the modern wildlife, fossils of swimming and flying reptiles dating back 85 million years have been found here, though ancient clams and oysters are more common. We also believe Little Jerusalem, now a component of the Conservancy’s 17,290-acre Smoky Valley Ranch, provides an opportunity to share our broader work in the high plains of western Kansas.
What is Smoky Valley Ranch?
Smoky Valley Ranch is a working cattle ranch comprising thousands of acres of shortgrass and mixed-grass prairie interspersed by chalk badland outcroppings. It is located in southern Logan County, Kansas, and was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1999. Here, the fundamental conservation strategy is our grazing system, designed to improve open range condition, increased forage for livestock, and improve prairie-chicken habitat. Our goal is to demonstrate that healthy wildlife populations go hand-in-hand with profitable ranching operations. This is important because about 80% of the native prairie in western Kansas has been converted to some other use. For what remains in grass, ranching is critically important for keeping it in its native prairie state. Conservation efforts in this landscape are just not possible without ranchers. On a small interior portion of the ranch, we also maintain black-tailed prairie dog and black-footed ferret habitat. The black-footed ferret is the most endangered mammal in North America and it relies on prairie dogs and their burrows for survival. Prairie dogs and ferrets can be a controversial topic, and this relatively small area of the ranch has received a disproportionate amount of attention. Smoky Valley Ranch is also a unique and important venue for research of the short and mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. Several Kansas universities will tell you that the ranch has served a critical role in their biological research programs.
Why do you call it Little Jerusalem? I’ve always heard it called New Jerusalem/Castle City/Logan County Badlands etc.
This collection of chalk outcroppings has had many names. In the late 19th century, it was said to resemble the ruins of many castles, thus “Castle City.” Some say that it got the name “Little Jerusalem” or “New Jerusalem” because from a distance it looks like the ancient walled city of Jerusalem. At the time the Conservancy acquired the property, most modern-day locals and geologists knew it by the name of Little Jerusalem. Whatever the moniker, Little Jerusalem shouldn’t be confused with the Little Pyramids, Castle Rock or Monument Rocks which are equally distinctive Niobrara Chalk formations but which cover smaller areas of land. Please be respectful of these other landmarks that are also located on privately property and not owned or managed by the Conservancy.
When will Little Jerusalem be open to the public?
We do not yet have a timeline for when Little Jerusalem will be open to the public. We will take as much time as necessary to plan and develop infrastructure that will keep people safe and protect the natural features of this place.
What's taking so long?
Simply put, we only have one chance to get this right. One of the biggest challenges is making sure we don't leave too big of a footprint on the land. We are exploring all options to make sure the access we provide will be rewarding to visitors, but preservation of the rocks, the wildlife and plant communities will come first. We want to be able to look back, years from now, and know this was all done properly. In spring 2018, we pursued legislation to designate the property as Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park and entered into a management agreement with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism. Once the legislation passes, this state agency will be able to assist with the design of public access. It is expected that the governor will sign the legislation after session resumes at the statehouse in late April 2018.
Learn more about the public access plans.
Why are you opening the area to the public?
The Nature Conservancy took ownership of this property with a responsibility to serve as steward of this special place forever. The seller felt that the Conservancy was best suited to achieve their long- term vision for the property, which included public access opportunities and protection of its unique resources. We do not take these responsibilities lightly and will make all efforts to protect the natural features of this property while allowing opportunities for public access. Due to the fragile nature of the soft rock formations, it is important that we develop the infrastructure for appropriate public access in a way that will protect the landscape while allowing people to enjoy this special place long into the future. We will also have a strict no-collection policy that applies to paleontological and all other finds at the site and experts will be called in for all significant fossil discoveries. We hope interest in Little Jerusalem and Smoky Valley Ranch increases tourism to the broader western Kansas region. The ranch is located just west of Highway 83 and is an official site along the Western Vistas Historic Byway. With lead support from The Sunderland Foundation, we will be able to design access such as overlooks and parking, that allows people to connect with nature while protecting it at the same time. While this access and suitable monitoring is being designed, Little Jerusalem will continue to be closed. Some areas may remain permanently off-limits.
Who will manage the public access? I heard it was a state park.
This property is and will remain privately-owned by The Nature Conservancy, a non-government agency committed to protecting the pristine natural assets.
We are currently consulting with several partners, including the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), engineers and educators to develop a public access plan for this unique landscape. We are seeking its designation as a state park and legislation was introduced in early 2018. The Conservancy would continue to own the property while cooperating with KDWPT to manage public access and visitor use. The Conservancy and KDWPT both agree that visitor access must be carefully managed to avoid damage to Little Jerusalem. Because the property will remain in private ownership and part of larger Smoky Valley Ranch, the Conservancy will continue to pay property taxes and cattle will continue to be an integral part of maintaining the prairie plants.
While we are committed to eventually offering public access, long-term management plans have not yet been finalized.
My group has always visited Little Jerusalem. Does this mean we can’t make our regular outing?
Visits to Little Jerusalem will be on hold until after the public access plan is fully implemented.