How Local 4WD Clubs Developed Kansas Rocks Recreation Park
story and photos by Allen Merritt
David Killion learned about the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), a funding program administered by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks (KDWP), which was initiated by the Federal Highway Department from gas taxes. As President of the Kansas City 4WD Association (KC4WDA), David researched the program, wrote a proposal, and received a grant to develop a trail system for off-road recreation. The grant provided an 80% reimbursed funding while the association contributed the other 20% through donated capital, materials and labor. Members of KC4WDA, Brush Beaters Jeep Club, and KC Jeep Club formed a volunteer board of directors for the new KANROCKS Recreation Association. This group, along with many other volunteers, built and opened the park in a short six months. The park consists of 240 acres with approximately 45 trails and obstacles. KANROCKS plans to negotiate for an additional 640 acres of surrounding land.
We went to check out KRRP during the Dan Reed Memorial Benefit Run in April. We arrived in Fort Scot, near the Kansas/Missouri line, about an hour south of Kansas City, toward the end of a three-day deluge that dumped from 5 to 10 inches of rain on the region. Even though the storm had washed out some highways and railroads, a good group of off-road adventurers came to the event. A mere flood didn’t stop these people because, like the late Dan Reed, they volunteer their time, equipment, and knowledge serving their communities during fires, tornadoes, blizzards, and floods.
As we turned into the Rock Park, a flock of wild turkeys ran across the road. From the county road to the park’s office, the clubs had hauled in many loads of crushed rock to make their road and parking lot passable for cars and RVs. The clubs had built a small office, nice toilets, covered pavilions, and a wonderful play area for the kids. Next to the parking area, they built a practice obstacle course that includes a big rock pile, free-rolling electric poles, articulation moguls, an SUV-sized balance beam, and soon an RTI ramp.
Visitors receive a map that overlays an aerial photograph of the property. The map designates the trails as: green-circle routes for stock 4x4s and inexperienced off-road drivers; blue-square routes for experienced off-road adventurers with at least 32-inch tires, a winch, and a locking differential recommended; and black-diamond extreme-terrain routes for fearless drivers with 35-inch or taller tires, front and rear lockers, a winch and spare parts are recommended.
Because of the flooding and the nature of the Kansas mud, most drivers found driving the novice trails challenging enough. However, Park President, David Killion and Vice President Jake Good of KC4WDA took us on a tour of some of the more challenging black-diamond trails. David led in his purple and yellow 77 FJ-40 with a TBI 350 hooked to a TH-400 with a Allison zero stall torque converter, twin-stick shifters and Tera Low 4:1 gears in the Dana 300, with a shaved 14 bolt rear and Dana 60 front differentials filled with 4:10 gears and Detroit Lockers. This rig hits the ground through custom grooved 38” TSL Swampers on 8X16 chrome modular wheels. His ViAir on- board air compressor with a trick self-retracting hose reel, Ready Welder, and Warn HS9500 winch gets him back home. The custom family roll cage, fenders, track bar and running boards were fabbed by Bars by Brian Evans.Jake’s Orange Bronco sports a 5.0 HO TBI motor backed up with a C-4 tranny and a Klune 4:1 mated to a NP 205 with twin-stick shifters. They run out to custom Dana 44’s front and rear filled with 4:10 gears, chrome moly shafts and Detroit Lockers. A custom 3 link coil spring suspension system clears the 38.5 SX Swampers on Centerline wheels. The Bronco also sports a Warn HS 9500 winch, full hydraulic steering, and a full family roll cage.
Even with David and Jake’s familiarity with the trails and their hard-core rigs, because of the mud, we winched on several trails and didn’t attempt some rocky climbs. The steep, wet, off-camber rocks at the end of Carnage Canyon were more like an extreme challenge mini-Tellico than Kansas.
We caught up with a group of Jeeps in a section of thick second growth hardwood forest and fragrant cedar trees, where even short wheelbase Jeeps were having to back up a time or two on some zigzag’s between trees and rocks. We noted that Jake and David were maneuvering their classic Bronco and Cruiser through the turns with ease. Using their transfer cases’ twin-stick set-ups, on tight turns, they slipped their rear axles into neutral and let the front tires pull the rigs around the corners. The big rigs almost seemed to rotate around turns in less than the length of their wheelbases, using front-wheel drive only.
We arrived back at the parking lot as burgers were coming off the grille. After lunch, the clubs held a raffle and auction to benefit the family of Dan Reed, who worked diligently in the 4×4 community and in developing KRRP. The day’s event raised $2,000 for the Reed Family. Jerry Lester and David Houser, who organized the event, donated a cut stone sign for the rock park.
Then Don VanBuskirk, President of the Brush Beater Jeep Club led a group on the park’s perimeter trails. His blue Jeep Rubicon equipped with a slip yoke eliminator kit, 4” springs, and 33×12.50 TSL Swampers sported vanity plates reading LV4JPN. Don, who is a schoolteacher, took lots of pictures, and explained that his students loved his jeeping photos. He uses his Off-Road Adventures to keep students interested in all kinds of topics. We know that teenage boys would be more interested in choosing the correct axle gears for big tires than in studying ordinary fractions, percentages, or ratios. Don has photos that help teach forestry, geography, geology, etc.
Brad Jones, another ‘wheeling teacher, had vanity plates reading JPTCHR on his white Jeep TJ equipped with 4:10 gears, lockers, 34×9.5 LTB Swampers, and custom bumpers. After a long day of teaching shop classes, Brad works in his fabrication shop building custom rigs. We know some of that enthusiasm for Off-Road Adventures influences his students.
We’re impressed by what these Kansas/Missouri 4WD clubs have accomplished with financial help from Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks in conjunction with their vision, labor and equipment. They’re putting the gas tax money to good use. The following weekend, the park hosted a HUMMER event. David reports that, because of their “Off-Road Adventures” at Kansas Rocks Park, several Hummer enthusiasts were Hooked-On-4-Wheeling.