STAFFORD — The East and West merge just 30 miles west of Hutchinson, Kansas — quite literally.
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge — 30 miles west of Hutchinson and 35 miles southeast of Great Bend — covers the area where the tallgrass prairies of the east and shortgrass prairies of the west meet and mingle. That merger, along with the area’s salt marsh wetlands, creates a haven for many migratory birds, mammal and reptile species, and more that is unique to central Kansas.
“We’re really a seasonal stop,” said Quivira NWR Project Director Mike Oldham. “People come here during the spring and fall migrations to see the birds that stop here on their way north or south. In the fall we have Sandhill Crane, Whooping Crane, and in the spring several types of shorebirds come from Mexico and south Texas.”
In 1955, the Migratory Bird Commission approved the purchase of land to establish the refuge. Quivira NWR now covers 22,135 acres, the last of which was purchased in 1988. Its unique name was given to the area by Spanish Explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541, who came to the area looking for treasure and the “Seven Cities of Cibola.”
The land was hunted by Native Americans and early settlers, and after the turn of the century, commercial hunting provided fresh waterfowl to Kansas City restaurants.
Today visitors to Quivira can view those same species of waterfowl and shorebirds from the refuge’s observation tower, take photographs in photography blinds, or simply hike or drive the area. The refuge includes hiking trails as well as an auto-tourism loop.
“The one location I always want to key into everyone no matter how much time they have to spend at the refuge would be Wildlife Drive, which is part of our auto-tourism loop,” Oldham said. “It seems to be a hotspot in the refuge that gets most of the birds stopping there.”
Over 340 species of birds have been observed at Quivira, and while waterfowl are a big attraction, the refuge is also home to both eastern and western Meadowlarks. Other visitors include such Eastern species as the Northern Cardinal and such western species as Prairie Falcon and Mountain Bluebird. These birds mix with such Great Plains grassland species as Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper.
The birds may be the stars of Quivira, but the unique oasis is also home to mule and white-tailed deer, black-tailed prairie dogs and Eastern cottontail.
The high salinity of Quivira’s big and little salt marshes also make the refuge home to unique plant species, such as salt grass, mixed in with tall and shortgrass prairie species. The sand prairies of the “Great American Desert” can be seen there today.
The refuge’s observation tower overlooks the Little Salt Marsh and is equipped with a viewing scope. Two photography blinds are located at the park, as well as a children’s fishing pond, a natural artesian well, hiking trails and 40 miles of roads within the refuge and along its perimeter.
Maps and other informative brochures are available at the Headquarters and Visitor Center located on the south end of the refuge, near the intersection of N.E. 80th Street and N.E. 140th Avenue. Visitor Center hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. The refuge is open to visitors seven days per week from 90 minutes before sunrise to 90 minutes after sunset. Weekend visitors can pick up maps and brochures from a kiosk located outside the Visitors Center.
Overnight camping is not permitted.