What and where is it?
The Flint Hills Nature Trail (FHNT) is a proposed 117-mile east-west all-purpose rail-to-trail running between the towns of Osawatomie and Herington in eastern Kansas. This railroad bed has had several past owners, primarily for hauling coal. It is now considered a wildlife refuge.
At its eastern end, the trail borders the Marias des Cynges River. At its western end, it passes through the Flint Hills, which is a tallgrass prairie ecosystems. Although this developing trail is under the direction of the Kanza Rail-Trail Conservancy, it is being funded through private donations, and constructed with volunteer equipment and workers.
Currently, about 50-miles of five separate sections are completed with repaired bridges and packed limestone gravel pathways, counting the town streets these sections run through. The rest of it is open and under gradual development. These incomplete sections are overgrown with ballast rock pathways, better suited for hiking and riding horses than for bicycling. When completed, however, it will be the longest rail-trail in Kansas.
Who can use it?
Bicyclists, hikers, walkers, runners, horse-riders, nature enthusiasts, photographers, groups, cross-country skiers.
Is there a day fee?
No. But Internet and mail-in donations are welcome.
What is not allowed on its corridor?
Motorized vehicles except for wheelchairs, fireworks, hunting, trapping, firearms, camping, campfires, littering, alcohol, unleashed pets, nighttime use.
Does it have trailhead facilities?
Not really. Restrooms, food, and water are found in the villages and small towns along its route. Its trailheads are mainly parking areas at this time.
What does it offer?
Incredible outdoor and nature experiences. It offers closeup views of wildflowers, grasses, and plants together with many birds, butterflies, and small animals. Birds will sometimes feign injury to keep trail users away from their nearby nests.
What sections are open (between towns from east to west)?
Osawatomie to Ottawa (22-miles, town to town; see description further below)
3-mile stretches on each side of and through Vasser (6-miles)
Admire to Bushong (12-miles)
Allegawaho Park to Council Grove (5-miles)
2900 Road to Herington (4-miles)
Osawatomie Section (east end; John-Brown Highway in Osawatomie to East-7th Street in Ottawa)
Because much of the eastern section borders a river, its corridor is lined with large shade trees, shrubs, and wildflowers of all kinds. Only its road-crossings and a handful of neighboring farm fields open-up fully to sunshine and southerly breezes. The high bridges here have side railings; the low ones have concrete curbs.
Its pathway is packed solid with crushed limestone screenings. A few of the ballast rocks beneath it have made their way to the surface. But they pose no serious bicycling problems. A few horse tracks and droppings cause no problems neither.
The village of Rantoul, which is about halfway between these two towns, has parking, a post office, an open shed stocked with snack/soda machines, but not much else commercially. However, food and water can be found easily at the end-point towns (Osawatomie & Ottawa) of this section via their paved streets.
Conclusion. The volunteer workforce building the FHNT is doing a tremendous job under limited funding. Although the trail’s finished sections seem a bit rugged, their varied outdoor nature scenes are almost pristine. In time, with more public funding and the installation of full trailheads, this rail-trail will be one of the Midwest’s best. The following website gives more information on Kansas trails.