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Prairie Preserve Is Newest Park

America’s newest national park doesn’t have towering forests, majestic rock formations or mountain lakes - just big skies and rolling acres of prairie grass.

The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the scenic Flint Hills of central Kansas was dedicated Saturday during a day featuring tours, public speeches, music and talk about the park’s future.

“This is the most beautiful land in the world,” said former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, who owns a ranch in the area and is a park supporter.

At one time, nearly 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie once stretched from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to Texas.

Less than 1 percent of that prairie remains today, much of it in the Flint Hills. The park is 10,894 acres.

The prairie in the Flint Hills region was never cultivated for crops because of its foundation of flint and limestone rock.

Much of it has been used for cattle grazing and a portion will continue to be used for grazing.

Mary Helen Bell, mayor of nearby Cottonwood Falls, said she saw many people at Saturday’s ceremony who initially opposed the park, which she said she hopes will help the economy.

“It’s just a great asset to our communities as a whole,” she said.

The nonprofit National Park Trust bought the historic Z Bar Ranch to create the preserve in a partnership with National Park Service.