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Kansas National Forest

Theodore RooseveltAs odd as it may seem, Kansas once had a National Forest.  In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an Executive Order designating 80,000 acres of land south of the Arkansas River and southwest of Garden Citiy as the Garden City Forest Reserve.

This forest was to be an experimental effort to determine which species of trees adapted best to the southwest climate.  Planting began in 1906 and it was reported in April that the government had planted 50,000 yellow pines and 30,000 hackberry, locust and Osage orange trees.  In 1907, the forestry service sent 170,000 evergreen, black locust, western yellow pine, jack pine, and Scotch pine trees to the reserve to be planted.  The first year was successful, but a prairie fire devastated more than 200 acres in early 1907.  In 1908, the forest was expanded to include a total of 302,387 acres and was renamed the Kansas National Forest.  The counties involved were Finney, Kearney, Hamilton, Grant, and Haskell.

By 1911, though, problems were evident.  A harsh drought in March of that year killed 90 percent of the living trees.  Replanting the forest in evergreens increased the survival rate, but the uncertainty of precipitation, hot summers and rapid evaporation of moisture spelled doom for the forest.  However, plantings continued in 1911 with cottonwood, jack and yellow pine, locust, catalpa, hedge, white willow and white ash.  Approximately 200,000 conifers were scheduled to be planted in 1912.

Ten years after its birth, President Woodrow Wilson abolished the forest in October 1915.  by December, 1915, the over 300,000 acres of land in what had been the National Forest was added to the federal land that was available to homesteaders.  The strongest survivors of all the trees planted were a stand of yellow pine planted in 1906 which never grew more than two feet tall. 

Entry: Kansas National Forest

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: June 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.