New trails programs highlight summer recreational programs
How much do you know about Shawnee County Parks Recreation’s trails? Chances are you are familiar with the 8-mile Shunga Trail that runs from Fairlawn near the Crestview Shelter House to NE 2nd or the 7.2-mile Lake Shawnee Trail. Did you know that SCP R’s more than 50 miles of trails are fairly evenly split between paved and natural surface trails, many with interesting features and histories?
Walking, running and bicycling are the most common activities along trails, but have you thought about the history of trails that today cut through wooded areas that were once pastures or about identifying prairie plants and trees along a trail?
In June and July, Terri Branden of SCP R’s forestry division will lead three new trails programs in three different parks: a prairie plant walk in Skyline Park and a tree and history walk through the Dornwood Nature Trails. Branden has a background in interpretive programs.
The historic Skyline Park is the site of renewed interest since Azura Credit Union made a major gift to enhance trails and the park, including eventually adding interpretive signage. Over the past 20 years, a great deal of work has been done to restore the park’s prairie areas. Members of Westar’s Green Team have helped with the restoration.
“The hill was horribly over-grazed as a pasture before it became a park,” explains Tom Hammer who heads SCP R’s forestry division. “Now, the park gives you a unique environment where you can travel in and out of prairie and woodland areas. It gives wildlife extra areas to find cover which is beneficial to a lot of animals.”
Foxes, coyotes and deer have been seen in the park, but Hammer says the animals quickly shy away from humans. Nearby land outside the park provides water to help sustain wildlife.
Each spring, the forestry staff tries to do a controlled burn in Skyline Park to rid the prairie area of woody plants and open up space for the sun to promote the growth of warm season plants including grasses and prairie flowers such as butterfly milkweed which is obvious by its bright orange color, indigo, blooming lead plant and purple prairie clover. June is a good viewing month but some plants bloom through July.
New trail markers have been added to the park thanks to Azura Credit Union and the Kansas Trails Council added a fourth trail loop to the park last year. Planning is underway to add a parking lot near the park entrance. “Open gate” days will also be scheduled to provide access for those who can only get to the top of the park by driving.
Another trail Hammer recommends because, like the Azura Trails at Skyline Park, it is easy to navigate is the Warren Nature Area off of the Shunga Trail. The 4-mile natural surface trail runs through the wooded area just south of the paved trail starting in Felker Park at 25th and Gage.
Another relatively undiscovered but interesting set of trails is at Dornwood Park. The remnants of what used to be a dairy farm are still visible near wooded areas that were once pastures. The Kansas Trails Council has now mapped 9.5 miles of trails through the area. Popular with mountain bikers, the trails are drawing more hikers. Branden will lead a summer program identifying trees and some of the history of the trail area accessible from the east edge of the park on 25th Street east of California.
“It’s a good place to go out and explore. There’s a pretty extensive trail system, some of which has been there for 40 years,” says Hammer. “There are various foundations from farm buildings as well as quarries from which they dug rock to build the house and other buildings. There are also a couple of old wells with above ground rock structures.”
During the summer’s program, visitors will learn how the land might have looked 80 to 100 years ago as a dairy farm vs. the oak/history forest that covers the ground today. Hammer says the land has been going through a forest succession for more than 50 years to get to this point.
“It’s interesting to talk about how long it took this land to become a mature forest and the work it will take now to keep it this way vs. when this was a series of grazing pastures or feeding lands for cattle,” Hammer says.
So next time you’re looking for a trail or just looking for something to do, Hammer advises, “Get off the beaten path. Just go out and find a new trail.”
The SCP R Trail Guide contains a list and a map of trails. It is available at the Administrative Office at Lake Shawnee, the Administrative Annex at Hillcrest Community Center, at other SCP R community centers or online at http://parks.snco.us/index.aspx?nid=92,
Summer trail programs
Prairie Plant Walk
Come enjoy Burnett’s Mound at Skyline Park with a guided trail walk featuring wildflowers, native plants and a spectacular view. Walk will be approximately one mile. Bring your own water and insect repellent. No restroom facilities available.
Date: June 10 (Rain date June 17)
Time: Sat. 10-11 a.m.
Fee: $5 per person
Tree and History Walk
Come enjoy a guided tree ID trail walk through the historic Dornwood Nature Area. Learn about the history and trees. Walk will last approximately one mile. Bring your own water and insect repellent.
Date: July 15 (rain date July 22)
Time: Sat 10-11 a.m.
Fee $5 per person
Call 251-2600 to register for a trail program.
The Kansas Trails Council is an important partner in creating and maintaining Shawnee County Parks Recreation trails. KTC volunteers have put in hundreds of hours creating and maintaining trails including the newest loop trail for the Azura Trails at Skyline Park. If you would like to support or volunteer for KTC, visit http://www.kansastrailscouncil.org/join/ktc-membership-sign-up/.