Once the site of extensive strip mining, the Mined Land Wildlife Area (MLWA) of southeast Kansas today includes roughly 14,500 acres that have largely been reclaimed by nature, providing not only an ideal environment for fish, birds and game animals, but for human visitors as well.

Mining in the areas scattered throughout Crawford, Cherokee and Labette counties that are now designated as MLWA began in the late 1800s. The first tract of land donated and dedicated as a nature preserve was in 1926. More than half of the current MLWA, including more than 8,000 acres, was donated to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism by the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Co. in 1981.

Today, hundreds of water-filled pits once used for mining are now managed for fishing. The MLWA features about 1,500 acres of public waters and some of the best fishing in the state, with largemouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, rainbow trout, walleye, crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, wipers, bullhead and warmouth among the varieties that can be found.

Photographers, wildlife watchers and hunters will also find no shortage of animals in the area. With wetlands, native grasslands, woody shrub areas and oak-hickory forests, MLWA provides an ideal habitat for white-tailed deer, eastern turkey, quail, cottontail rabbits, fox squirrels, raccoons, bobcats, beavers, muskrats and coyotes. Other activities that draw visitors to the nature preserve include hiking, as well as mushroom and berry picking.

While hunting and fishing are generally allowed in the MLWA, these may be restricted at certain times in certain areas. Canoeing is permitted throughout the nature preserve. Motorized boats are allowed only for fishing and hunting. Water skiing and personal watercraft are prohibited, as are swimming and target shooting.

Tent camping is allowed throughout the MLWA except in designated refuge areas. Vehicle traffic is restricted to parking areas and maintained roads. RV parking is allowed in certain designated areas and parking lots. Off-road vehicles and horses are not allowed in the nature preserve. Use of firearms is prohibited in units 1, 21, 23 and part of Unit 22, although bow hunting is allowed in these areas.

In addition to the tent and RV camping allowed in many parts of the nature preserve, the MLWA offers two modern cabins capable of accommodating up to six guests and available for rental reservations. The cabins are located in Unit 30 of the wildlife area, near the town of West Mineral in Cherokee County, overlooking a 28-acre lake stocked with rainbow and brown trout. Anyone age 16 or older must have a trout stamp to fish the trout lake.

Acreage designated as part of the MLWA is not contiguous and parts of the nature preserve are scattered throughout the three counties where it is located. Hazards to watch out for include poison ivy, as well as steep drop-offs in many of the strip-mine lakes throughout the area. For more information, visit the website of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism at https://ksoutdoors.com or call 620-231-3173.