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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Camping at Marais Des Cygnes

On our way back from the Marais Des Cygnes Massacre site, we pulled off at a small kiosk for the Marais Des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge.  I was interested in going in to the headquarters, but since the day after Christmas was a federal holiday this year, it was closed.  There was a flyer and a refuge map at the kiosk, so we pulled one to learn a little bit more.  The map indicated a few campsites, so we went and found one to spend the night at. 
It was a great little campsite.  There's 3-6 of them throughout the refuge, with two of them gated and closed, at least during the winter months.  We pulled out the tent, set everything up, then made dinner.  Wow- camping in Kansas in December!  We had to keep our streak going of months with a night in the tent.  December made 15 months straight. 
I love camping!  I'm especially fond of primitive campsites, and Marais Des Cygnes delivered.  I guess they're only semi-primitive though because they do have fire rings and tables.  For me, camping in a campground has several parallels with staying in a cheap hotel. 
1.  Whatever amount you pay is too much, and
2.  The walls are too thin
Campgrounds just have too many people with their dogs, music, generators, and chaos.  Out here, or other places where I'm primitive camping, we lay in the tent listening to coyotes howl or owls hoot. 
After dinner, we went down to the Marais Des Cygnes River.  Marais Des Cygnes is a French interpretation of an indian word for "Marsh of the Swans."  I think it would be fun to come back with a canoe and drift and fish my way down the slow moving stream.  We had a blast throwing rocks in and trying to make the biggest splash.   Pretty soon though, it was dark so we climbed back up the steep banks and climbed into bed. 
The next morning, we loaded up and drove around the refuge, enjoying the beautiful views.  The brochure I had picked up mentioned strawberries, blackberries, pecans, and persimmons to pick on the refuge.  I sent an email to the refuge manager and got back this response:

"Thank you for your interest.  The most common wild fruit to gather here are blackberries and pecans.  For blackberries, look for brushy clumps and thickets in the middle of grass fields, along the field edges and tree rows, or beneath power lines where they cut through the forest.  There are blackberry patches throughout the Refuge but for whatever reason, production has seemed light the last one or two years.  You might try Mine Creek Meadow.  From Zenor Road, take 1175th Road east across the old bridge and as the road bears to the right, make a left turn onto a field lane.  Take that approximately 100 yards to a small parking area.  From there, walk through the gate to the field.  Pecan trees are fairly common across the refuge as lone trees in fields or in the bottomland forests.  Persimmon trees are sometimes found around old homesites.  Persimmon bark is distinctive and easy to spot once you start looking.  It appears “blocky” with deep fissures.

Wild strawberries…that just takes luck finding a decent patch in a prairie somewhere.  Perhaps in an area we call Rocky Prairie which is beyond the gate to the southwest of the terminus of E1175 Road
 If you need any directions around the Refuge, please call or stop by the office.  Let us know if you have success when the right seasons arrive.  Good luck!
If it’s not berry or fruit season, we have activity backpacks for youngsters to borrow from the office.  The “Let's Go Outside” adventure packs include tools for exploring nature like binoculars, field guides, bug jars and more."
It seems like a fairly popular spot for duck and goose hunting as well.  Several hunters drove by us, and we spotted several wandering out in the flooded cornfields on their way to their blinds.  I'll definitely have to come back when it warms up!

Nearest City: Lacygne, KS
Location: Off of Kansas HWY 52 and 69
Time Needed: varies
Difficulty: varies
Kid Friendly: yes
Additional Info: Marais Des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge Website

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