Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Heron at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge


In the transitional zone between eastern tallgrass and western shortgrass prairie, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge lies mainly in northeastern Stafford County but also overlaps into Rice and Reno counties. This 22,135-acre refuge has a mixed-grass and prairie ecosystem that encompasses grasslands, marshes, stream corridors, salt flats, sand dunes and hills, and agricultural land.

The 7,000 acres of wetlands within the refuge include Big Salt Marsh, Little Salt Marsh, and more than 30 smaller marshes. The salty surface water and salt flats are fed by salty groundwater that moves upward toward the surface and discharges through springs, seeps, and stream-groundwater interaction. Halite (common table salt) and anhydrite (similar to gypsum) in the groundwater originated in subsurface sandstone layers.

Salinity in Quivira is not related to the Hutchinson Salt Member, which is mined in other parts of Reno and Rice counties. Instead, it comes from the shallower Cedar Hills Sandstone and sandstone layers in the Salt Plain Formation. (The Hutchinson Salt Member underlies these formations in the refuge.)

Water in the salt marshes is much saltier than drinking water but not as salty as seawater. On average, drinking water contains 250 parts per million (ppm) chloride (the more parts chloride, the saltier the water). In comparison, water in Little Salt Marsh contains about 2,500 ppm, water at Big Salt Marsh contains between 5,000 and 10,000 ppm, and seawater contains 19,000 ppm.

The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure reliable habitat for birds along the Central Flyway migration route. Annually, thousands of Canada geese, ducks, sandhill cranes, shorebirds, and other migratory birds stop over. More than 340 species of migratory and non-migratory birds, including both the eastern and western meadowlark, have been seen at the refuge, and bald eagles winter and nest there. It also provides critical habitat for the federally listed whooping crane, the state-listed western snowy plover, and hundreds of mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, and plant species.

Providing educational and recreational opportunities, the entire refuge is open to fishing and foot traffic (40 percent is open to hunting). Resources include an observation tower at Little Salt Marsh, two photo blinds, wayside interpretive signs, and an Environmental Education Center.


Stafford County

Stafford County locator map

Rice County

Rice County locator map

Reno County

Reno County locator map



Quivira National Wildlife Refuge website

Central Kansas and the Arkansas River Valley: Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Water Management: Kansas Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014-4, page 17.

Salt in Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey Public Information Circular 21