McPherson County sports a big wetlands complex known collectively as the McPherson Valley Wetlands. They are divided into two parts, one part a little west of McPherson and the other just a couple miles as the crow flies southeast of Inman. Inman’s share of these wetlands is known as the Farland Lake Marshes, and is comprised of Little Sinkhole No. 1, Little Sinkhole No. 2 and the Big Sinkhole. Known affectionately at our house as “the sinkhole,” it’s my go-to place when I find myself at the eleventh hour without a column for the week. A trip to the sinkhole never disappoints; from a chance encounter with a cruising muskrat as I sit in the truck along the water admiring God’s handiwork, to a tree overhanging the sinkhole pond so full of white egrets it looked like a tree of huge white blossoms.

Across the road to the west of Sinkhole No. 1 is another sinkhole of a couple acres that is privately owned. I’ve trapped beavers there for a few years, but since it all dried up during the drought 3 years ago, it has been beaver-free, much to my chagrin. The past summer and fall of 2016 brought us good rains and the sinkholes and the marshes are all full, but I noticed last fall that a few acres of farm land just above the privately owned sinkhole pond were under several inches of water. I discovered fresh beaver sign there but couldn’t figure out why the farm land was under water. It drains into the sinkhole pond, but the drain pipe in the pond was under water not allowing the cropland to drain, and both ponds were swollen with water. Across the road to the east is a deep drainage ditch that connects the small sinkholes and drains them both a mile to the east into the Big Sinkhole.

I walked back there last Sunday afternoon, and as I topped the dike along the drainage ditch, I looked to the east and there was merely a small stream of water flowing through the drainage ditch as it was supposed to do; odd I thought since everything it was supposed to drain was flooded. I spun around and looked toward the small ponds behind me and was face-to-face with an immense beaver dam, ultimately responsible for the flooded field. Although that dam creates deep waterways for the beavers travel and offers ducks nearly unlimited hidden resting places among the flooded timber and grassy marsh ponds, it will have to be torn out this spring to allow the cropland above it to properly drain. Hopefully I can catch a few beaver before that has to happen.

On both sides of the drainage ditch as it flows to the east are big marshes lined and dotted with cattails and grass that are meccas for waterfowl of all varieties on years like this when they’re full of water. My walk to the dike took me past a couple small marshes that are for the most part too near the road and too small for much waterfowl activity. Something in the cattails caught my eye, and on closer inspection I found a muskrat “hut” bigger than I’ve ever seen. Muskrats live in 2 types of structures, huts in a pond like this one or dens dig into the bank. Bank dens are the most prevalent and I grew up in Ohio trapping muskrats from bank dens in creeks. In swamps or ponds, however muskrats occasionally build huts resembling small versions of beaver lodges. Made from layer-upon-layer of cattails and mud they have entrances under water and a big open cavern inside which is the living quarters. A long walk along the top of the dike just yesterday revealed numerous huts like that one in other marsh ponds. Because muskrats are normally scarce around us, I’ve not set a muskrat trap since living in Kansas, but this year that’s about to change.

Perhaps my best “sinkhole encounter” of all time occurred just yesterday as I drove the dirt road separating Little Sinkhole No. 1 from the privately owned pond. As my pickup crept slowly along, two big birds in the top of a tall tree caught my eye. Two stately bald eagles keenly scrutinized me from their perch high atop the tallest tree along the pond.

Back when I first began writing this column, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of technology, and the same goes for learning to use my nifty smart phone’s camera in place of the Fuji camera that used to my constant companion. I’ve learned that most pictures I need are close-ups and the phone takes those quite nicely, so the camera stays at home. Boy did I wish I’d had it yesterday! I got pictures of the eagles but regretted not having the amazing zoom of my Fuji. Yes “the sinkhole” is my go-to spot whether or not I need a story, and a trip there never disappoints. So find your sinkhole place and continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!

Steve can be contacted by email at stevenrgilliland@gmail.com