By MIKE CORN
OAKLEY -- Looking for a wee bit of exercise coupled with an even bigger dose of sight-seeing?
Then the 1- or 5-mile trail traversing through parts of the Nature Conservancy's Smoky Valley Ranch southwest of Oakley just might be the spot for you.
While it's a trifle hard to find, the trail offers plenty to view, including limestone and Ogallala outcroppings along the Smoky Hill River.
A bit of caution is suggested, as the area is known for rattlesnakes. A picture of a coiled rattlesnake adorns the kiosk that marks the trail head.
While the snakes don't often come out during the heat of the day, its one of the reasons why the Nature Conservancy urges visitors to wear boots and keep an eye out.
The trail was created to give people a chance to get out and take a close look at the short-grass prairie region that makes up the ranch, said Rob Manes, TNC's director of conservation.
The group also wants to give something back to the community.
So far, Manes said, use has been light, but that's only because the word about the trail hasn't spread that far. There obviously aren't any large metropolitan areas close by.
"Most people in Logan County have access to get outside," Manes said, so most of the visitors have come from other parts of the state. Many came during the ranch open house last month.
The hope is that as word of the trail spreads, people will take the opportunity to travel to Logan County to take a close look at the richness of the short-grass prairie.
One of the problems so far has been marking the trail, or the way to the trail.
On the trail, temporary signs have been put in place, but the area is in a field where cattle graze.
"Cattle like to rub on things," Manes said, and most of the signs are now down.
TNC personnel are working on signs that will stand up to the cattle, yet not detract from the beauty of the region.
As for directional signs, the group hopes to approach the Kansas Department of Transportation to see about a sign on the highway. Strict rules concerning signs make it uncertain if the site will qualify.
"All we can do is ask," Manes said.
The trail in Logan County is something new for TNC, he said, although they also have walking trails near Cheyenne Bottoms in Barton County and at the Tallgrass Prairie preserve in Chase County.
To get to the trail, head west of Oakley on U.S. Highway 40 to the western edge of Monument. Turn south on 350th Road for about 15 miles. There is a parking area along the east side of the road, although it is not marked. A kiosk sits on the south end of the parking area.
Manes said the TNC is working on directional signs as well.
Maps of how to get to the trail, as well as the trail itself, are available online at tinyurl.com/ropa5.