Jessica Karns is a teacher, librarian and mom who lives in Holton, Kansas. She loves all things summertime: Gardening, lazy days at the lake, farmers’ markets, and family vacations. We invited her to share her experiences from her recent trips to two Kansas State Parks. In this post, she shares her highlights from visiting Prairie Dog State Park. You can also read about her trip to Prairie Spirit Trail State Park here.


Poet Linda Hogan writes about the importance of being patient enough and quiet enough to understand the story that nature tells us. As a mom of two young boys, patience and quiet are often in short supply. Communication is too often in the form of texts or to-do lists left on the counter. When our family needs to reconnect and find balance, spending a day with Mother Nature is our favorite solution.

We traveled just west of Norton to do some trail hiking at Prairie Dog State Park. Admittedly the promise of prairie dogs was the biggest selling point, as were the opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming. To carve out some time together, we decided to simply explore the park on foot. We began with the park’s 1.4-mile nature trail. The trail loops through swaths of native grasses and beside groves of cottonwoods. Well-maintained and set at an easy grade, it’s an ideal introduction to wildlife watching.

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My kids would tell you I have a tendency to turn every outing into an educational opportunity. Sure, if it were up to me, we would read every sign and add to my collection of informational brochures. My inner-teacher was thrilled to observe many of the creatures described in the well-placed signs along the trail and learn about their habitats and migratory patterns.

All my very valuable information aside, my boys were most charmed by the general cuteness of the 300-plus black-tailed prairie dogs “barking” their alerts as we passed through their town. The kids wondered if their tunnels might all be linked by living rooms and kitchens, if they even had bathrooms. Hmm, I thought. Good questions. That was my cue to let go of the lectures, and to try to be a good listener. Rather than comparing birds of prey or admiring the bluestem grasses, we had conversations about how the animals connected with our own lives. As a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, my older son explained to my younger son why the birds choose their unique flight pattern. We talked about wind resistance and airplanes and arrows. When we came across two fawns still wearing their spots, the boys remembered a book I used to read to them about how the spots keep them hidden, and my younger son listed other animals who use nature’s camouflage to stay safe. A sign with a listing of area predatory birds reminded us all of an owl we’ve been hearing at our house in the evenings. We wondered if the same kinds of owls live in our corner of Kansas.

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Along our way we examined animal tracks left in the trail and listened quietly for bird songs. We finished the trail and headed to the old adobe home which still sits on its original foundation in the park. I couldn’t help but mention how the thick adobe walls helped early Kansans stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. My son was mostly excited about the containers of Maxwell House coffee on the pantry shelves. The same brand his grandma drinks today.

Hanging out with the kids on the trail, trading our iPods for local bird calls, made all the practice schedules and laundry seem perfectly unimportant. Nature provided the backdrop for the important conversations we sometimes get too busy to have. I was excited to learn Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is partnering with Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to offer free access to Kansas State Parks on Oct. 1, 2016. They’re calling it “Healthy Trails Adventure Day.” I hope families all over the state will take advantage of the opportunity to experience the fun our state park trails have to offer. What a great way to get more families like mine out on the trails!

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