If you are a lover of native prairie, and don’t mind a brief hike, the Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve is a must see. It is located just three miles East of Baldwin on 56 Highway, immediately adjacent to Black Jack Highway Park (identifiable from the highway by its log cabin) and just down the road from Black Jack Battlefield.
The preserve’s namesake, Ivan Boyd, was a strong conservationist, Baldwin resident and Baker University biology professor that spent a great deal of time on the land. After his death in 1982, the tract was dedicated to him. The land he loved offers a wide variety of flowers, plants, grasses and wildlife within its 18 acres.
Currently, the preserve is maintained by the Douglas County Department of Public Works and Dr. Roger Boyd , Ivan’s son. In February of this year, Roger was honored as Conservationist of the Year at the Kansas Wildlife Federation’s annual awards banquet.
In a visit to the preserve this week, I was greeted with grasses still brown from winter and quite a few waterlogged areas from recent rain. With spring, the grasses will be greening up and flowers making their appearance. The preserve is easily walkable. Grasses can get fairly high, but footpaths cross the area to ease your step as well as damage to the natural area. The Black Jack Highway Park portion is perfect for a picnic lunch or shady break from the open areas. The prairie is a place that offers something new every time you visit, so plan on coming more than once.
Points of historical significance are the Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts that traverse the property. A sign clearly points you where to look, though you hardly need it, as far more than a century later, the lay and slightly changed color of the grass remain as a reminder of the thousands of people that passed through.
Before heading out for a hike, be sure to dress appropriately. I recommend long pants rather than shorts in such tall grasses. I even tuck my pants into my socks to protect from ticks. After all, a hike isn’t a fashion show. This time of year always do a tick check once you’ve arrived home. I also wear boots to avoid anything in the grasses that might want to take a bite as my foot plants down. Snakes are plentiful as temperatures get warmer so be wary. And don’t forget a hat! Most of the area is open prairie and the sun can quickly become brutal. And the ever important last item to have – water.
If you do give the prairie trail a try, I hope you enjoy the natural and historical significance of the area. Few untouched areas such as this remain – and are maintained – so take a moment while you’re there to appreciate Kansas as it once was. You will see newer homes in the distance while hiking – just further reminder to appreciate each step you take.