Emporia State's Natural Areas


Neva Marsh

In higher education, students spend a lot of time with books and other media in the classroom. The field scientist, though, also turns to the natural world for knowledge of the outdoors.

“There is no accurate virtual substitute for observing organisms in their natural settings where they exhibit natural behaviors,” said Dr. William E. Jensen, associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Emporia State University Natural Areas. “You can’t find new fossils in a computer or a book,” he adds.

For observations such as these, students and faculty at Emporia State are fortunate to have access to several properties owned and managed by the university. The sites range in size from the 10-acre Campus Woods to the 200-acre Ross Natural History Reservation near Americus, Kan.

“The sites represent an array of regional plant communities, including tallgrass prairie and eastern deciduous forest, in addition to stream, wetland, and pond communities, as well as a renowned fossil quarry,” explained Jensen. Courses in zoology, ecology, soil science, and geospatial analysis use the sites for field trips to observe specimens and learn sampling techniques.

Most areas remain undeveloped, lacking any sort of unnatural infrastructure. The headquarters facilities at the Ross Reservation, however, include a climate-controlled building with a classroom, labs, and restrooms, as well as outdoor picnic facilities. ESU is currently planning renovations to the site to enhance its capacity to host on-site coursework as well as special events.

The properties owned and managed by Emporia State include seven biological sites and one geological site.

  • Campus Woods—a 10-acre tract of predominately riparian forest along the Neosho River. It is located at the far north end of the university campus.
  • Charles Coughlen Natural Area—a 44-acre tract of tallgrass prairie located nine miles southwest of Emporia along the Kansas Turnpike. It consists of native and restored tallgrass prairie, riparian woodland, a spring, and a stream with a small impoundment.
  • Dunlap Bottoms—One of two new wetland natural areas, this 128-acre tract in southeastern Morris County was restored from cropland to a wet meadow of native, warm-season grasses under the Wetlands Reserve Program by a previous landowner.
  • F.B. and Rena G. Ross Natural History Reservation—ESU’s first natural area is 200 acres of native and restored tallgrass prairie, shrubland, and woodland, including a stream, springs, ponds, and other habitats located approximately 15 miles northwest of the university’s main campus. Facilities include a classroom and lab space.
  • Hamilton Fossil Quarry—a 51-acre tract of land approximately three miles east of Hamilton in Greenwood County, Kan. Formerly the location of a commercial rock quarry, the property includes numerous fossil sites which have yielded a large, world-famous collection of late Pennsylvanian age (300 million years ago) fossilized vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and microfossils.
  • Neva Marsh—Another newly acquired wetland site, the 52-acre Neva Marsh is located in the Cottonwood River floodplain of Chase County. Its broad, shallow impoundments support aquatic vegetation and wildlife. Native, warm-season grasses were also reseeded on the area.
  • Reading Woods Natural Area—a 36-acre tract of upland and lowland deciduous forest, Reading Woods is located near the town of Reading, about 15 miles northeast of Emporia. Because of its unique flora, fauna, and geological features, Reading Woods is maintained as a preserve in a relatively undisturbed state. The university acquired the land in 1971.
  • Sarah Howe Natural Area (Howe Woods)—a 12-acre tract of forest in eastern Lyon County that contains several large bur oaks. The area is maintained as a natural preserve at the request of Sarah Howe who deeded the land to the University in 1982.

 To arrange a tour of any of the Emporia State Natural Areas, visit the website at www.emporia.edu/naturalareas or call 620-341-5339 to contact Jensen directly. Those interested in making financial gifts for improvements of Natural Areas facilities should contact DenaSue Potestio, president/CEO of the Emporia State University Foundation, 620-341-5440.