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 board. More information can be found at the website of the National Park Trust http://www.parktrust.org or the National Park Service http://www.nps.gov/tapr/home.htm .
SOURCE National Park Trust