The Prairie Spirit Trail in Kansas is hard-packed limestone and suitable for bicycles as well as wheelchairs. Some of the trail is asphalt (within city limits), which allows for inline skaters. The trail is open during daylight hours; special permits may be obtained for group night rides or other events.
Now over 50 miles long, the trail runs from Ottawa to Iola, offering plenty of recreation and enjoyment for birdwatchers, cyclists, walkers, joggers and anyone with a desire to explore the heartland—the spirit—of Kansas.
The trail, administered as Prairie Spirit Trail State Park, offers visitors a taste of rural, middle America at its finest—rolling pastures, lazy streams, wooded ravines, friendly townspeople, colorful wildflowers, big farms and an endless sky. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Prairie Spirit, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy added the trail to its Rail-Trail Hall of Fame (August 2011) for embodying the unique natural and cultural history of the region and acting as a vanguard for other rail-trail projects.
Two centuries ago, this area was part of a vast and largely untouched prairie ecosystem that sustained not only millions of bison and other wild creatures, but also native Kanza and Osage people who hunted game and grew crops here. As European settlers began to move in, so too did the railroads. In 1858 a group of businessmen from Lawrence broached the idea of the first north-south rail line through the state. In the 1860s the idea became a reality with the opening of the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Fort Gibson Railroad (which later became the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad).
By the mid-1970s the line fell into disuse; in 1990 it was sold to the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company (KCT), which filed for abandonment not long after. Fortunately, government officials saw an opening to create the state's first rail-trail along this corridor. The Prairie Spirit Trail remains the only rail-trail in the Kansas State Park system.
Construction began in 1992, and the first section, 17 miles from Richmond to Welda, opened in 1996. The northern 16-mile section, from Ottawa to Richmond, opened in 1998. And the third 18-mile section in the south, from Welda to Iola, opened in 2008. A short extension taking the trail even farther south to Riverside Park in Iola was completed a few years later.
The trail has proved popular with residents and visitors alike. The variety of ecosystems and geography, including wooded areas, farmland and prairies, makes the trail inviting. It also incorporates urban areas and small towns. Among some of the Prairie Spirit Trail's more notable natural features are the nearby native prairie preserves, including The Nature Conservancy's Anderson County Prairie Preserve, which protects the rare Mead's milkweed and other vanishing species of the tallgrass prairie.
At its northern terminus in Ottawa, the Prairie Spirit Trail intersects the Flint Hills Nature Trail (at Walnut and 1st streets). From the southern endpoint in Iola, trail users can continue south for another 6.5 miles on the same rail corridor to the city of Humboldt via the Southwind Rail Trail.
Trail Permits: A per-person trail permit is required for persons 16 years and older to use the trail outside the city limits of Garnett and Ottawa. Persons using the trail within the city limits of Garnett and Ottawa may do so free of charge. The cities of Garnett and Ottawa maintain the trail within their respective city boundaries. This maintenance is provided in exchange for usage of the trail within those boundaries at no charge.
Self-pay daily permits are $3.50 per day and may be purchased at self-pay stations located at the Ottawa, Princeton, Richmond, Garnett and Welda trailheads.
Annual permits are available for $12.50 at the following locations:
Garnett Area Chamber of Commerce
419 S. Oak
Garnett, KS 66032
City of Garnett
131 W. 5th, Box H
Garnett, KS 66032
2138 S. Princeton
Ottawa, KS 66067
Franklin Co. Clerk's Office
Franklin Co. Courthouse
Ottawa, KS 66067
Village Inn Motel
2520 S. Main
Ottawa. KS 66067
No permit is required for persons 15 years of age or under.
Facilities: Trail restrooms are available at the trailheads in Princeton, Richmond, and Welda from approximately April 15 to October 15. The Santa Fe Depot in Garnett provides restroom facilities throughout the year and is located near the town square in Garnett. The depot serves as a tourism information center as well. Picnic areas are located at each trailhead.