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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 in Kansas.

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.

Matfield Green

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.

Cottonwood Falls

North of Bazaar is Cottonwood Falls, the county seat of Chase County and home of the oldest continuously-operated courthouse in Kansas.

The courthouse, 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.

Strong City

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 - rocks.

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 and Sunday.



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