We here in Leavenworth County are really quite lucky to have a nice piece of public land nearby to enjoy, that is, Fort Leavenworth. That is really significant in Kansas where most of the public land is invested in the roadsides along our highways and a few federal and state reservoirs and a bit more military land. Kansas has the least amount of public lands.
Nationally, we celebrate National Public Lands Day on the last Saturday in September to remind everyone of the importance of the value of public lands. I believe that Americans in general take it for granted that we have public lands, but those of us who have either served overseas or otherwise lived outside of the United States, have an appreciation for public land ownership.
Annually, the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF) awards small amounts of money to some of us in the Army who manage land on military reservations to ensure that DOD public lands have something to offer the public. We have been fortunate to have received this award for several years.
The award is not automatic, we have to apply for the funds and since the funds are limited, they are competitive. Fortunately, the NEETF favors our project to develop and maintain a very nice trail in the woodlands along Sheridan Drive.
Strangely enough, this trail actually started out as a brush-free lane in which to set up the portable electric fence for the sheep that were used to eat down the weeds along Sheridan Drive. It went through the woodland edge because the sheep were also eating the garlic mustard, which is an invasive plant that eventually eliminates the native wildflowers in the woodlands.
So, the Sheep Fence Trail runs along Sheridan Drive on contours that usually keep it within a hundred feet or so of the woodland edge. In other words, a person running or riding a horse or bicycle on this trail is also within view of the road most of the time. It is critical for our soils here to keep the trail on slopes less than 10 percent grade. The trail must be sustainable or there should be no trail.
It did not take very long to see that the Sheep Fence Trail was also suitable for trail running, horse and mountain bike riding, but it was going to have to be wider to accommodate multiple-uses. Last year, NEETF funded two months of trail work with a crawler tractor with bucket and we cleared about two miles of trail eight feet wide.
This year, NEETF funds will allow us to buy a prefabricated wooden bridge so that the trail can remain high on the contour instead of going up and down slopes to get over a deep ravine. More trail work will be done with heavy equipment as weather permits so that eventually the trail will run eight feet wide from the old Greenhouse all the way to Nez Perce Village, which is across from Munson Army Clinic. The trail is marked all the way, but it needs to be widened all the way.
Page 2 of 2 - What this means is that anyone can use the trail for trail running, horse or mountain bike riding, although it should be used only when it is not wet so that it stays in good condition. You can Google NEETF and see what other projects they are funding across the country. Luckily for us here in Leavenworth County, we have public lands on which we can put in some time in our running shoes or ride our bikes.
You should contact me if you have an interest in working on the trail or helping to maintain it. For example, the leaves need to be raked off the trail to keep it dry and the limbs need to be picked up and thrown off the trail to keep it open. You should use and take care of your public lands.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.