Private Horse Trail System Proposed Across Kansas’ Flint Hills

Horsepower may again be a recreational method of travel across Kansas’ depth.

And, it could be a windfall to landowners along the route.

“I am conducting a research project to validate the feasibility of developing a series of interconnected horse trails throughout the Flint Hills,” explained Thomas Warner, professor and director of the Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management Program with the Department of Horticulture, Forestry and Recreation at Kansas State University.

Warner envisions a system of horse riding trails that could be established through contiguous private lands that would eventually allow riders to take their horses from Nebraska to Oklahoma entirely on Flint Hills ranchland.

“Landowners would be the ones reaping dividends for allowing such trails to exist, Warner emphasized.

“Participants would be guided to protect the land from uncontrolled use,” acknowledged Warner, indicating that endurance races could also be part of the program.

Rides could be half or full day, multi-day or week-long excursions on “loop” or “destination” trails.

“A ‘loop’ trail is where riders begin and end at the same point, with ‘destination’ trails taking participants to a new location,” Warner related.

There could also be a “core” trail that would be the “Heart of the Flint Hills” running the full length of the Flint Hills with access points along the trail.

“All riders would pay to ride on the trails with fees based on the number of miles,” according to Warner.

Additional income for property owners might come from ranchers or family being a guide; providing horses and equipment; providing overnight lodging and food for riders and horses; providing food and beverages to riders during the ride; providing entertainment for overnight horse riding guests; and providing transportation for riders to and from the destination including airport pickup service, etc.

“If selected trails were designated for horse drawn wagons, this would allow the general public, paying visitors of all ages and capabilities, those who are not horse riders, to see the Flint Hills and learn about the history, culture, tradition and ecology of the area from the wagon drivers and guides,” Warner offered.

“It would give them insights to this unique region of our state and nation,” he continued.

Of course, property owners would not be obligated to be part of the “trails system.”

“They could be ‘active’ participants involved in some or all of the income generating activities associated with the system,” Warner clarified. “Or, ‘passive’ participation would allow trails and guided riders to cross the land.”

“If Flint Hills landowners participate in the ‘trails system,’ it can be marketed as both a national and international destination,” Warner stated. “The entire system would be marketed as ‘agritourism’ and/or ‘ecotourism.'”

Such a system would help increase knowledge about the Flint Hills while preserving the ranching tradition and culture.

“If the trails are seen as an enduring income source for ranchers and landowners based on the scenic beauty of the ‘undeveloped’ Flint Hills, this last vestige of the tall grass prairie has an improved chance of being protected in its ‘native state,'” Warner said.

“It would benefit all counties and communities along the route through increased patronage of many businesses including food, fuel, housing, souvenirs, etc.,” Warner asserted.

“National studies show an extreme interest among equestrian groups to ‘ride the Flint Hills,’ and a large group of avid horsepersons in Europe and other countries have a desire to ride across the Kansas Flint Hills,” Warner verified.

“Equine tourism is part of the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 adopted by the U.S. Department of Commerce for merchandizing to international markets,” he added.

The concept is supported by the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, the Kansas Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Division, Kansas State University, the Kansas Horse Council, Ranchland Trust and the Kansas Livestock Association.

“County Extension agents and the Equine Education Center at K-State would likely be closely involved,” Warner continued. “Moreover, several private foundations supporting rural economic development have expressed interest in assisting with the proposed program.”

However, there are issues that arise for such an endeavor including liability, funding, organizing and management. Work is also currently being done on each of these areas.

Warner can be contacted by phone at 785-539-7565 or by e-mail at twarner@ksu.edu.

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