National Park Trust Prepares to Transfer Ownership of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

First Privately Owned National Park Unit Enters New Phase

Feb 17, 2005, 00:00 ET from National Park Trust

    NEAR STRONG CITY, Kan., Feb. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Park Trust
 this week will officially transfer ownership of the Tallgrass Prairie National
 Preserve to the Kansas Park Trust, concluding its 11-year stewardship of the
 nation's first and only privately owned National Park unit which has been
 owned by the National Park Trust.
     Under the terms of the agreement, the Kansas Park Trust will transfer the
 10,894-acre preserve to the Washington, D.C.-based Nature Conservancy.  In
 2004, Nature Conservancy received a $4.8 million gift from the estate of the
 late Frank and Francis Horton of Wellington, Kan. for the express purpose of
 preserving the tallgrass prairie.  The Kansas Park Trust was formed in 2004 by
 a group that includes Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.
     "The National Park Trust is dedicated to preserving endangered habitats
 such as the tallgrass prairie ecosystem of the Flint Hills," said Paul
 Duffendack, chairman of the National Park Trust.  "Despite all of the
 struggles involved in creating and maintaining the Tallgrass Prairie National
 Preserve, we have remained true to our mission and are pleased to report that
 we are leaving this property in better condition than when we purchased it."
     Duffendack, of Leawood, Kan., says that the National Park Trust's
 involvement in the Tallgrass Prairie preservation effort has tested the
 organization, which was founded in 1983.
     "We were aware of the challenges we were facing when we agreed to become
 involved in this preservation effort, and it hasn't been easy," he said.  "But
 looking at the bigger picture, if the National Park Trust hadn't taken on this
 challenge, there wouldn't be a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve today."
     District Judge Lee Fowler of Cottonwood Falls, Kan., agrees.  Fowler
 chairs the 13-member Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Advisory Committee,
 created by the Secretary of the Interior following the park's creation.  "Even
 when no one else was willing to take on stewardship of this land, the National
 Park Trust not only accepted the role of steward, but also helped bridge the
 gap between public and private interests to preserve this land for the
 public's benefit," he said.
     "As we look forward to a new partnership with the Kansas Park Trust and
 the Nature Conservancy's Kansas Chapter, we will always be appreciative to the
 National Park Trust for the critical role they have played in the preserve's
 establishment and initial development," said Steve Miller, National Park
 Service Superintendent of the preserve.
     Paul Pritchard, president and founder of the National Park Trust, said
 that demand for lands within or adjacent to national parks is making the cost
 of preservation higher than ever before, straining the financial resources of
 conservation groups, who must vie with real estate developers and industry for
 ownership of at-risk open spaces.
     "Most people are not aware that civilization is quickly encroaching on
 land that is located either inside the boundaries or right next door to state
 and national parks.  Once these lands are developed or exploited for their
 natural resources, there is no going back," said Pritchard.
     "In the past 22 years, the National Park Trust has acquired more than 100
 properties, which affected million acres of land -- purchased from willing
 sellers using private funds -- and either turned them over to the National
 Park Service or state park systems for the enjoyment of future generations."
     In recent years, the National Park Trust has purchased national park land
 at the Civil War Ft. Stevens, negotiated the donation of a multi-million
 dollar beach in the Virgin Islands National Park and funded the creation of
 the Missouri Park Foundation.
     For decades, preservationists and politicians had sought to create a
 national park in the Flint Hills of Kansas, which is home to the last
 remaining stand of tallgrass prairie habitat in North America.  Opposition to
 federal land ownership stalled legislation until U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum
 Baker brokered a compromise stipulating that the federal government could not
 own more than 180 acres and requested that the National Park Trust own the
 remainder of the preserve as a private party.
     The National Park Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit
 organization, acquired the 11,000-acre Z-Bar Ranch (also known as the Spring
 Hill Ranch) from Boatmen's Bank for $4.7 million in 1994, paving the way for
 the creation of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve under legislation
 signed by President Clinton in 1996.
     To finance the purchase of the land, the National Park Trust signed an
 agreement with Texas cattleman Edward Bass, who pre-paid a 35-year grazing
 lease and donated $1 million to the National Park Trust.
     National visibility for the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve has helped
 spur tourism in historic Chase County, Kansas, which includes the towns of
 Strong City and Cottonwood Falls, the county seat.  The National Park Trust
 has built trails, preserved historic buildings and donated them to the
 National Park Service, and has opened the property to public use.  The Kansas
 Park Trust will include two representatives of the National Park Trust on its
     More information can be found at the website of the National Park Trust or the National Park Service .

SOURCE National Park Trust