Chase county offers fishing
opportunities and plenty of other things for the family
By Deb Zeiner
You might not realize it, but just an hour or so
northeast of Wichita is a place where the scenery has remained
unchanged for thousands of years, where
neighbors still watch out for their neighbors, coyotes howl at
night and cowboys still ride the range. It's also the home of
the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve, the only national park
That place is Chase County, population 3,100. It
is a place of beauty, history and stubborn individuals, sort
of a "Northern Exposure" on the Kansas prairie - and
it's my new home.
I can't remember when we first "discovered"
Chase County. I think we came to look at the Chase State Lake
and Wildlife Area near Cottonwood Falls one day, and fell in
love with the entire county while we were here.
Chase County has been described by some as the
eastern-most point of the American west. And perhaps the best
way to understand that description is to travel north along Kansas
Scenic Byway 177 from the Kansas Turnpike at Cassoday. As you
travel along the road, the land rises and falls and rises again,
climbing into the heart of the Flint Hills.
Ten miles north of Cassoday is the small town of
Matfield Green. At one time a major cattle-shipping point, the
town population is fewer than 60. But don't think that small
population is the sign of a dying community. Matfield Green is
the home of a vital, intellectually-stimulating group of neighbors
who are proud of their town's railroad heritage.
North of Matfield Green on the west side of Highway
177 is a long, narrow building that sits rather uncomfortably
close to the railroad track. The building, built in 1923, was
built to house railroad employees and their families. The building
is being restored as a guest house.
And north of the old line house is Pioneer Bluffs,
one of the oldest ranches in the county. The property is lined
by some of the old dry stone fences that are found county-wide.
Ten miles north of Matfield Green is the Bazaar
schoolhouse and cemetery. A half mile east of the highway is
what is left of the town of Bazaar, which in 1920 was the largest
cattle-shipping point in Kansas.
In 1931, Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne
was killed when the airplane he was a passenger in crashed into
a hill south of Bazaar.
North of Bazaar is Cottonwood Falls, the county
seat of Chase County and home of the oldest continuously-operated
courthouse in Kansas.
completed in 1873, features a red mansard roof and cupola and
was built out of limestone quarried in Chase County. Designed
by John G. Haskell, the county population was just 600 when a
$40,000 bond levy was approved to build the new courthouse.
To this day the courthouse remains a tribute to
the pioneers who dreamed of building a courthouse that would
stand a century of use. Tourists are encouraged to tour the courthouse
when they visit Cottonwood Falls.
South of the courthouse is the Roniger Memorial
Museum of native American artifacts and north of the courthouse,
at 301 Broadway, is the Chase County Historical Museum. And downtown
Cottonwood Falls is filled with shops, galleries and restaurants
sure to fill a variety of appetites.
Just west of Cottonwood Falls is the Chase State
Fishing Lake and Wildlife Area (see accompanying story). But
wildlife abounds throughout the county. Every year, bald eagles
winter in Chase County and prairie chickens, turkey and deer
populations are bountiful.
From time to time antelope are seen on neighboring
ranches and over 400 species of plants, 150 types of birds, 39
types of reptiles and amphibians and other species of mammals
have been found in the county.
One of the best ways to understand the history
of Chase County is to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve,
two miles north of Strong City on Highway 177. Formerly the Z
Bar/Spring Hill Ranch that was built in the early 1880s by cattle
baron Stephen F. Jones, the 32-acre park in the middle of an
11,000-acre preserve enables its visitors to become immersed
in the history and vast expanse of tallgrass prairie that exists
in the Flint Hills of Kansas. It is a place of special beauty.
Visitors may take tours of the ranch headquarters
as well as bus tours of the prairie and may also hike two different
trails that wind through the prairie.
Strong City is also the home of the Flint Hills
Rodeo, the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas. Held the first
full weekend of June, the rodeo features performances Friday,
Saturday and Sunday, cowboy dances Friday and Saturday nights,
a rodeo parade on Saturday and cowboy church on Sunday.
Stone bridges and buildings
Throughout Chase County there are lovely old stone
houses, fences, mills, barns and bridges - proud reminders of
the ingenuity of the settlers who came to the county in the late
1800s. Trees were at a premium on the grassy prairie, so the
settlers utilized the building material that was in abundance
Probably the best known stone bridge in Chase County
is the 175-foot-long twi-arch stone bridge at Clements, 14 miles
southwest of Strong City and south of Highway 50. The bridge
was completed in 1888 and has a 21-foot 5-inch span rise.
Just a few miles away, north of Highway 50 along
Diamond Creek, is another unique stone bridge - the Diamond Creek
Bridge, which is higher on the west side than it is on the east
side, appearing to stair-step the creek. And the old mill at
Cedar Point is still standing, although cracks riddle each side
of the old structure.
Several ranches in Chase County now offer accommodations
and hunting and fishing opportunities as well as trail riding
and overnight wagon trains as well as four diamond accommodations
at the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls, bed and breakfasts
and motels in the area.
For information on Chase County, contact the Chase
County Chamber of Commerce at (620) 273-8469 between 10 a.m.
and 2 p.m. Monday thru Friday and noon until four on Saturday
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