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It was a cowboy-style Independence Day celebration at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve outside of Strong City on Saturday.

Around 1 p.m., Steve Showalter adjusted his vest and bandana, put on his cowboy hat and read the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence aloud to guests assembled on the grass near the historic ranch house. Showalter, a site volunteer, asked the audience to imagine how important an event like this would have been to people in the 1880s.

“Someone like me who was literate would stand up after lunch and start reading the Preamble,” he said. “It would have been an important part of the Independence Day celebration for them.”

The historic ranch hosted visitors throughout the day to hike the trails, learn about the land and observe volunteers going about chores like their 1880s counterparts would have. After the reading of the Preamble, guests were invited to join in various games such as foot races, a potato sack race, hoop and stick, tug-of-war and an old-fashioned egg-toss contest.

Heather Brown, Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, said the site hosts events like Cowboy Independence Day to showcase the natural and cultural resources available at the preserve.

“Events like this keep history alive,” she said. “We want to introduce people to nature, get them outside away from technology so they can explore our natural resources and learn about our culture.”

Karen Siebert of Kansas City was in full explorer mode with a group of college friends who traveled from around the country for a reunion. The women came from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Arizona to spend the weekend in Chase County. Hiking, bus tours and seeing the bison herd were highlights of their trip.

“The beautiful Flint Hills with birds chirping and bison sightings — we love it here,” Siebert said. Her daughter, who attended “horse camp” at nearby Camp Wood, is also enamored of the area. “She asked for land in the Flint Hills for her birthday,” Siebert said, laughing. “She’s turning 11 and that’s what she wants.”

Siebert is a frequent visitor to the preserve. She remembers driving through the area as a child, before the preserve was established. Having access to the land now is something of a dream come true.

“We couldn’t get out and be on the land back then because it was private,” she said. “But now I can bring my kids and my friends here to enjoy it. We just finished a bus tour and the bison were right up by the fence. Now we’re going for a hike along the trails. I’m so grateful that we have public access to the land.”

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