Legacy Sanctuaries

Legacy Sanctuaries are properties that have been left to AOK by the owners in their wills.   Currently, there are three such sanctuaries in the pipeline.

Gary and Carolyn Haden Far West Farm

Far West Farm comprises two parcels on the western edge of the Flint Hills in Morris County.  The properties are owned by Gary and Carolyn (Kendall) Haden, Manhattan.  The total acreage of the two parcels is 285 acres—a 73-acre unit spans Clarks Creek, a tributary of the Kansas River, while a 212-acre parcel two miles north lies along and near the east side of Clarks Creek, with six acres being on the west side of the stream.  The headwaters of Clarks Creek are a mere two miles to the south of the southern unit of Far West Farm, but in those two miles the stream has grown significantly into a permanent stream due to numerous springs.  Beaver dams produce year-around pools.

Far West Farm is named for the Far West Post Office, which in 1864 was the most westerly post office in Kansas.  Carolyn’s great grandfather, who had come from Kentucky to work on the Santa Fe Trail and then homesteaded a portion of Far West Farm in 1858, was postmaster of that early post office.  Carolyn grew up on a farm a mile from the property.  Far West Farm is an Audubon of Kansas Legacy Sanctuary, which means it will become part of AOK’s Sanctuary system upon the death of the Hadens-- or possibly before then.  The farm contains a variety of wildlife habitats and will serve well as an AOK Wildlife-Friendly Farm.  In addition to beaver, white-tailed deer, turkeys, quail, barred owls, wood ducks and numerous other bird species are regulars on both parcels. 

The 73-acre parcel that spans Clarks Creek includes a half-mile nature trail that runs along Clarks Creek.  It passes alongside a Great Blue Heron rookery before exiting the riparian zone to emerge at an 11-acre hay meadow composed of never-tilled native prairie.  The southern parcel includes a mix of tilled fields, hay meadow, a Conservation Reserve Program filter strip and more than 30 acres of woodlands.  The most dramatic feature of the land are massive bur oaks that apparently took root shortly after woodlands in the area were cut to construct homes and serve the railroad, which reached the area in 1887.

The northerly parcel, which lies west of Latimer, Kansas, includes nearly 100 acres of pasture that has never been tilled, approximately 70 acres of cropland, CRP filter strips and approximately 35 acres of riparian and other woodlands.  A two-acre pond has been surrounded by fence to exclude cattle, which has proven to be a dramatic demonstration of the difference between grazed and ungrazed prairie.  Forbs flourish on both the grazed and ungrazed areas and pollinators are particularly abundant on some acreage outside the pasture that is managed for them.  Prairie Chickens are frequent visitors to the pasture and pheasants are occasional residents.  The abundance of edge habitat seems to be favored by coyotes and secretive bobcats.

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Margy Stewart & Ron Young Bird Runner Ranch & Wildlife Refuge

Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge is a 320-acre prairie preserve in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  McDowell Creek runs through the refuge, and the name “Bird Runner” comes from the Kaw word for McDowell Creek, Wah-nin-dhe-hu, or “the place where the bird-runner died.”   Margy Stewart & Ron Young are the caretaker-proprietors. Their half-section of land is part of the 5 million acres of native prairie still remaining in the Flint Hills--an ecologically significant expanse of prairie. Their preserve contains 250 acres of native upland prairie and 60 acres of bottomland prairie restoration. Bird Runner is now an Audubon of Kansas "Legacy Sanctuary," as Margy and Ron have willed their land to AOK, an independent Kansas organization that is creating an archipelago of wildlife-friendly farms and sanctuaries across the state of Kansas.

Restoring Bottomland Prairie
Because the deep-soiled bottomlands were plowed immediately after the settlers arrived, there is not much historical record of what the native plant community was like before it was replaced by crops. Therefore, the seed mixes used in the restorations are the result of the best guesses of experienced prairie people around the state.   The seeds planted are documented at http://prairiecommunity.blogspot.com/2013/04/4-restoring-bottomland-prairie-4.html.

The restorations at Bird Runner are also being guided by the principle of "forbs first." Previous restorationists have learned that over time grasses in restorations push out the forbs (aka wildflowers, or broad-leaved plants), leading to a reduction in biodiversity. This imbalance does not occur in native prairie. So in the Bird Runner restorations, forbs are planted first, giving them a head start.  Meanwhile, numerous additional species of native forbs have simply volunteered in the Bird Runner restorations.   Native grasses are volunteering, too, so far adding to biodiversity.   The composition over time is being closely tracked.  We'll see what the results turn out to be!

Margy, Ron, Betsy Roe, and other members of AOK’s Sanctuaries Committee are documenting the plant and animal communities at Bird Runner.   Some of their posts appear on AOK’s Facebook page, here on the web site, and at http://prairiecommunity.blogspot.com.

Preserving native prairie and restoring biodiversity are wondrous experiences!

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