The Cherokee Lowlands occupy roughly 1,000 square miles in parts of Bourbon, Crawford, Cherokee, and Labette counties in the southeastern part of the state. Overall, the region is one of mostly level plains, although a few hills rise up here and there. These plains are cut by narrow valleys and by ditches left over from mining days.
The Cherokee Lowlands are characterized by a combination of shale and sandstone. The softer shale has eroded into a fairly level plain, while a few scattered sandstone hills prevent the region from being entirely flat.
Bituminous coal deposits remain underground scattered throughout the rock in this region.
Strip mining has taken a devastating toll on soil fertility throughout the region. Eroded, poorly drained hardpan forms the uplands. However, the valleys still contain some undamaged soil, which is relatively deep and fertile.
Oak and hickory trees grow on the slopes and in the stream valleys, and tallgrass prairie covers the uplands. Mining areas are slowly being reclaimed by native vegetation. Efforts have been made to plant trees and grasses near the old strip mines in order to repair the damage.
A region characterized by abandoned strip mines may not sound promising to wildlife viewers, but restoration efforts have brought some life to this region. The old mines are commonly stocked with fish, while reclaimed areas are home to animals ranging from quail to rabbits to white-tailed deer.
The Cherokee Lowlands benefit from streams and an abundance of annual precipitation. Furthermore, the ditches left over from the strip mines also provide a source of water. Many of them are now stocked with fish.
Although the average annual precipitation is over 40 inches, rain arrives on a seasonal basis. The summers can be extremely dry.
Until recently, the Cherokee Lowlands were considered useless. Good cropland and pastures, however, can be found in the reclaimed strip mines and in the more fertile areas where mining was never practiced.
Also of Interest
Strip mining had a profound impact on the region, removing the natural vegetation and changing the landscape, especially along the Kansas–Missouri state line. Coal, zinc, clay, and limestone were abundant for a time, but by the 1930s mining was typically no longer profitable. Only coal is still mined in the Cherokee Lowlands.
Now that the strip mining days have passed, the land is slowly healing. Agriculture is gradually creeping into the region. For now, it is difficult to generalize about the prevailing conditions in the Cherokee Lowlands. Their story is not yet complete.
A photo of strip mining in progress in Crawford County.