The land that makes up Crawford State Park has long been the scene of government activity. Before white men settled in Kansas, present-day Crawford County belonged to the Osage Indians. A series of treaties changed this forever.
In 1827, the government requested the Osage Indians to stay out of the area, which would be set aside as a buffer zone between Indian lands and nearby Missouri. In 1835, these neutral lands were granted to the Cherokee tribe in exchange for land in Georgia. The Cherokee Neutral Lands, as they were called, were illegally invaded by white settlers, however. In 1866, the Cherokee Indians gave up hope of retaining the rights to this land. They sold it to the American Emigrant Company, U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Harlan acting as agent.
Two days later, Orville Browning became the Secretary of the Interior. Under his watch, a dispute arose over the terms of the contract, with the result that the government again sold the land, this time to James F. Joy, representing the Missouri River, Fort Scott, and Gulf Railroad. Settlers, however, objected that they had already bought the land. The conflict grew sharp as the railroad survey began in 1869, and when both sides resorted to armed violence troops were sent to maintain order.
When the dispute moved through the courts, the settlers were allowed to purchase their land back from Joy and the soldiers were withdrawn. The railroad was constructed and development of the area began.
The next major period of government activity began in 1934 when the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived on the scene to build a dam and create a lake. Lake Crawford was one of many projects started in an effort to provide employment for young men during the Great Depression. It was completed in about four years.
The lake was managed as a state fishing lake until 1965, when the state park was established. Since that time, Crawford State Park has been managed to provide a diverse lineup of activities for its many visitors.
- Take U.S. Highway 69 south out of Fort Scott.
- Exit onto Kansas Highway 7.
- Follow Highway 7 west and then south for about 12 1/2 miles.
- Turn left on State Highway 277, also known as E 710th (follow the sign).
- Proceed straight to the state park.
Crawford State Park is near the border of where the Osage Cuestas transition to the Cherokee Lowlands. Not surprisingly, trees are a major feature here. A mature forest showcases blossoming redbuds in the spring and spectacular oaks and hickories in the fall. A wide range of wildflowers and even a few cactus plants can be spotted. Just keep your eyes open for poison ivy!
You might see deer and turkey at Crawford State Park, but even more spectacular is the colorful display of butterflies and songbirds. A diversity of snakes and lizards also abound, including the endangered broad-headed skink. Be aware that this part of Kansas is relatively wet, so you will be sharing the park with quite a few ticks and mosquitoes.
Hunting is not allowed at Crawford State Park.
In most years, good crappie and channel catfish populations are in the reservoir. You might also have luck with bluegill and largemouth bass.
- CCC Memorial Trail: This short 1/4-mile trail honors the men who built Lake Crawford. Visitors will see photos of the construction in progress. Artifacts from the CCC camp are also on display. Hiking only.
- Spiderleg Bridge Trail: This is a 1/2-mile trail on the north side of the lake showcasing the remains of a mid-1800s military outpost. The outpost once guarded Spiderleg Bridge, so called because it was an awkward-looking structure made out of poles. Hiking only.
- Deer Run Nature Trail: A 3/4-mile trail passes near Farlington Fish Hatchery. This path includes interpretive signs to help you understand the plants and animals that you might see along the way. Hiking only.
- Drywood Creek Hiking and Biking Trail: Hikers and bikers looking for a workout might enjoy this trail. It is a 7-mile route around the entire lake. The trail can be hard to follow, it is impassible when wet, and the scenery is not spectacular. It is primarily for those who want to put their endurance to the test.
North of the lake is the road that leads to Farlington Fish Hatchery. Development started on this project in 1939, but was delayed due to World War II. Soon, however, the ponds were completed, and the hatchery has been in operation ever since. Most of the fish are hard to view, but some guests enjoy touring the hatchery nevertheless. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism recommends visiting in April and June, when a wide variety of fish are in the fish house for hatching and sorting. Please call ahead (see helpful resources below).
A little bit of information on the hatchery’s past and present. Also includes contact information for arranging a tour.