The Ozark Plateau, located in the very southeastern corner of Kansas, is characterized by rolling hills and forests. Occupying only 55 square miles in Cherokee County, this is the smallest physiographic region in the state.
The primary geological feature of the Ozark Plateau is limestone hills capped with gravelly chert. The large amount of water that flows through this region has carved numerous valleys and caves into the limestone.
This region was one characterized by mining. Galena, the source of lead ore, is one mineral prominent throughout the Ozark Plateau. Likewise, sphalerite was mined for zinc. The mines also incidentally produced sizable calcite crystals.
The soils on the steep slopes of the area are moist, but they are also thin, rocky, acidic, and highly leached of nutrients. The Ozark Plateau has the dubious distinction of being the least fertile region in the state.
The Ozark Plateau is primarily covered with hardwood forest. Some grassland still remains, but most of it has given way to cropland.
This warm, wet region contains plants that cannot be found in any other part of the state, including mistletoe and sassafras tree.
Along with the usual turkey and white-tailed deer, this region has a rather different variety of wildlife species than the rest of Kansas. Fish and mussels abound in this well-watered region, as do amphibians and birds.
Rainfall is abundant in the Ozark Plateau region, but the area is plagued with poor-quality groundwater. Runoff from abandoned mine shafts has contaminated the aquifer system, and an underground layer of salt water has been creeping in from the west. Water quality is being carefully monitored throughout the region.
The Ozark Plateau receives over 40 inches of precipitation annually, making this the wettest region in Kansas.
The majority of the region is unsuitable for agriculture. However, small areas of both grassland and cropland exist, as mentioned above. Most of the crops grown in this region are located along Shoal Creek and Spring River.
Also of Interest
The leached soils and water quality issues are leftovers from the Ozark Plateau’s mining heritage. Deposits of lead and zinc attracted many to the area during the early 1900s. Mining slowly came to an end after World War II, and now the mines are abandoned.
Collapsed Mine Near Galena
Photo from the Kansas Geological Survey.