Since irrigation and water supply are high priorities in western Kansas, the construction of Norton Dam and Keith Sebelius Reservoir was logical. The United States Bureau of Reclamation began work on the dam in 1961 and completed it in 1964. Kansas quickly arranged to set up a state park to provide recreational opportunities and wildlife management.
Since then, the history of Prairie Dog State Park has been fairly unremarkable. Much of the focus at the park is on local 1800s history (see Other Opportunities below).
- Take U.S. Highway 36 westward out of Norton.
- Turn south on Kansas Highway 261 and continue for about a mile to enter the park.
Prairie Dog State Park offers visitors a glimpse of the High Plains. The landscape is one of wide-open spaces and typical shortgrass prairie plants, including seasonal wildflowers. However, just enough trees are present along streams to offer shelter for wildlife.
Birds range from the greater prairie chicken of the grasslands to the bald eagle and osprey of the shoreline. Rock outcroppings attract a wide range of snakes, as well. The fauna highlight of the park, however, is its namesake, the black-tailed prairie dog. The state park was named before there were prairie dogs present, so an attempt was made to establish a colony of these entertaining little animals. This proved to be unsuccessful, but later on more prairie dogs arrived voluntarily and took up residence south of the park entrance, past the railroad tracks. This colony supports an equally interesting population of predators, ranging from badgers to prairie falcons.
Rockhounds will likely be interested in the scenic bluffs on the south shore of the lake.
Hunting is allowed in the wildlife area, but space is limited. Good populations of waterfowl, pheasant, turkey, and rabbit are present. A lucky hunter might shoot a white-tailed deer or even a mule deer. Just be forewarned that you will have plenty of competition from other visitors, particularly at the beginning of the season.
For archery practice, try out the range just west of Branded Cedar Campground.
The fishing in Keith Sebelius Reservoir is superb, no matter what your preferred method is. The best opportunity is wiper, but your odds are good for catching walleye, crappie, black bass, and both channel and flathead catfish. Also try your luck at bluegill and carp.
Prairie Dog Nature Trail: This walking trail is 1 1/2 miles long and starts at the prairie dog town. You will then head toward Meadowlark Campground for a good view of the lake. Interpretive signs point out interesting features of the park.
Want to learn more about prairie dogs? Stop by the park office for more information.
Near the park office is the one-room Hillmon Schoolhouse, built in 1886 about two miles south of the state line. This was moved to the state park and dedicated in 1969.
Also of historical interest is the last adobe house in Kansas that has remained in its original location. It was constructed in 1892 and has been preserved for visitors to see. It is located just northwest of Prairie Dog Campground.
A little more about this interesting old schoolhouse from the official Kansas tourism site.