Konza Prairie may be closing due to rule breaking

A warning sign stands next to the main trail in the Konza Prairie on March 23, 2016. (Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

Konza Prairie Biological Station is privately-owned property by The Nature Conservancy and K-State for research purposes, but it has set aside hiking trails for public access, according to a March 8 K-State Today announcement. To preserve the wildlife, landscape and research, rules are in place for the hiking trails.

The public, however, has been disobeying these rules as of late, which could result in the closure of the trails.

There are three key rules that people are having trouble following: not bringing pets, not leaving trash behind and staying on the designated trails, according to John Briggs, director of the Konza Prairie Biological Station.

The Biological Station is looking into teaming up with the Riley County Police Department and the K-State police to patrol the prairie area to ensure rules are being followed, Briggs said. If incidents of rule breaking continue to occur, Konza Prairie may be forced to close or allow only limited access to the nature trails on weekends, Briggs said.

Briggs said something needs to be done and rules need to be adhered to.

“Closing the Konza is the very last resort,” Briggs said. “It’s part of the community, and we would like to share it with people.”

K-State and The Nature Conservancy feel that it is important to provide a venue for the public to experience and learn about the endangered tallgrass prairie ecosystem, according to K-State Today.

Friends of Konza Prairie is an organization dedicated to supporting education facility improvements, including hiking trail maintenance, according to K-State Today. At the beginning of the trails, there is a collection box for donations, Briggs said. These donations go toward helping conserve the Konza and are welcomed to help keep the trails clean and open, he said said.

Manhattan and surrounding-area residents hike on the Konza Prairie trails, and it provides a place to observe wildlife and be out in nature.

Clay Zapletal, Manhattan resident and runner, said he uses Konza Prairie to train and would have to travel a long way to find another place like it.

“The Konza Prairie is a true treasure in our own backyard,” Zapletal said. “As an Ultramarathon trail runner, I use the Konza Prairie to train for many races I run in. It is without a doubt the best place in the Manhattan area to trail run. Losing access to Konza would mean having to drive 50 miles or more to find similar kind of terrain.”

Many K-State students consider Konza Prairie a Manhattan icon and view it as a popular destination, according to Rylee Shea, senior in elementary education.

Shea said she loves going out to the Konza and enjoying the scenery.

“The Konza is truly a trademark of Manhattan,” Shea said. “It would be a shame to see the trails close.”

If Manhattan area residents and visitors are looking to walk dogs or other pets, there are alternative hiking trails around Manhattan that are animal-friendly, including the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and many of Tuttle Creek State Park’s trails, according to bringfido.com, a website listing pet-friendly attractions by town.

As for the other issues, Briggs said to simply follow the rules.

“Help us keep the Konza open,” Briggs said.