By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

They are the ugly stepsisters of the more scenic lakes and public wildlife areas, not to mention the seemingly endless meadows of prairie. Some are simply too small for virtually any use, while others are simply too barren.

In any event, no one, including the Bureau of Land Management, wanted the last bastion of unwanted land -- the dozens of parcels of land that are now in the not-so-vast portfolio of land holdings of the Kansas Department of Wildlife of Parks.

Welcome to the rag-tag collection of public lands KDWP purchased from BLM in two land transactions, in 1969 and 1982.

"It's roughly 1,541 acres of land we purchased from BLM," said Robert Barbee, public lands supervisor for KDWP.

But the parcels range in size from slightly more than a third of an acre -- about the size of three city lots -- up to 400 acres.

One of those tracts of land is in Gove County, simply known as the Gove Public Domain. It contains about 160 acres, in two contiguous parcels, located south of Quinter.

It is a harsh piece of land, the vast majority of it limestone outcroppings unable to support much grass, and likely the reason why it was never homesteaded or purchased from the federal government as the state was being settled.

"It's landlocked," said Kent Hensley, whose responsibilities for public lands includes Cedar Bluff, the Logan Wildlife Area northwest of Russell Springs and the Sherman Wildlife area south of Goodland.

He's also responsible for the Gove Public Domain land.

"It doesn't have a fence," Hensley said. "It's an isolated quarter section."

And it likely has no more than 30 acres of habitat, he said, instead consisting of mostly highly-eroded chalk.

"I know some of the Sternberg people have taken classes out there," Hensley said.

Because the ground is landlocked, private land must be crossed to get there. But because there's so little habitat, it's easy for even a single hunter to overuse the area.

"It's an interesting place to visit," Hensley said. "There's some cool stuff."

There's also what's known as the Elkader property, a small slice of land situated alongside U.S. Highway 83 south of Oakley.

There's actually three even smaller parcels in Logan County, one accounting for 1.5 acres and the other two accounting for 23.38 acres.

The sites are so small, Hensley said, that they are left in a natural state.

"There's really no way to set up wildlife management programs on them," he said.

When the land was transferred to KDWP, the federal government retained the mineral rights, and prohibited any surface development. Oil drilling, for example, would have to be directional, coming in from outside the area.

BLM apparently spot checks the lands to ensure that those rules aren't violated.

Some of the parcels of land, however, already have oil wells on them, as is the case on the Gove County land, so remote that oil wells are powered by propane and accessible only in fair weather.

"Most of the properties we got from BLM are landlocked," Barbee said.

And they come in all shapes.

One piece along the Kansas-Oklahoma line, he said, is 400 to 500 yards long and about 15 yards wide. There's also parcels down by the Cimmaron National Grasslands. The largest parcel, Barbee said, is about 400 acres of Kearny County land, all landlocked and made up of sand dunes.

"There's all kinds of stuff out there," Barbee said. "There's all kinds of pieces of land that was surplus by the federal government."

Most don't even show up on county maps, and a lack of access keeps the land hidden away for all practical purposes.

"They have to provide us access, but not to the general public," Barbee said of adjoining landowners.