By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
Across the pastoral landscape, a sound echoes through the air. We are visiting the little-known treasure called Echo Cliff along the Kansas Native Stone Scenic Byway.
In a previous profile, we learned about the many attractions chronicled on a new CD about the Native Stone Scenic Byway. The byway is a 48-mile highway route between Topeka and Alma, including the rural town of Dover with a population of perhaps 50 people. Now, that’s rural.
According to one account, Dover was named by English immigrants who were reminded of the white cliffs of their homeland when they came across this remarkable stone formation here in Kansas.
Echo Cliff is located two miles west of Dover, Kansas, south on Echo Cliff road. It is an impressive native stone outcropping above scenic Mission Creek, and includes a park with a canopy of ancient bur oak and sycamore trees.
This area was once known as Gibbsville. A major section of sandstone is exposed above the creek. In the mid-1970s, a portion of the cliff wall cracked and separated from the main section. More of the sandstone and shale formations were then exposed for all to see. Remnants of this slide remain at the bottom of the cliff in the creek.
Three sites near the cliffs have been studied by state archeologists for the presence of Indian villages. These studies found evidence of the Woodland Indians of the Grasshopper Falls phase, and a Plains Indian tribe with a Pomona influence.
Fred Winter named this location Echo Cliff in 1895, based on the acoustics found here. It became a picnic and camping site.
In 1922, Charles Winter cleaned the grove and prepared it for use as a park and camping ground, which could be rented by the public and used by Sunday School classes. At one point, the grounds included cabins, miniature golf, horseshoe pits, and a croquet field. The park was a location for many campouts by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Even roaming Gypsies were known to camp there.
A resident by the name of Harry Fellows lived in the area of Gibbsville and operated a broom factory there during the early 1930’s. He grew broom corn on the bottom ground along nearby Mission Creek and also purchased corn from some of his neighbors. The brooms he made in his factory were sold at general stores in Dover and Topeka.
The land where Echo Cliff is located was deeded to the Dover Grange to be maintained for use by the public. Now it is owned by the Echo Cliff Park Trust, with a board of directors from several Dover organizations.
Currently no overnight camping is allowed, but restrooms and cement tables are available for use in the park. Steel boiler tanks acquired from a demolition company and modified by local farmer Earl Hepworth, are used as latrines. It is said that the previous toilets were “commandeered by a group of spirited individuals who rode them down the creek during a time of high water.”
Earl Hepworth has been caretaker of the park for more than 50 years, emptying the trash barrels every day. He is the creative mind and hand behind all of the signs, tables and benches. The circular driveway is lined by boulders of Sioux quartzite from South Dakota and Minnesota that were carried into Kansas by the last glacier, along with sandstone from a local quarry.
With the construction of a new bridge over Mission Creek to the west, the old iron bridge has been incorporated into the park also. It provides access to the top of the cliff and is said to be a fine spot from which to fish.
Many people still come to marvel at the scenic beauty of Echo Cliff. One observer wrote, “Rappelers come to scale the cliffs, students come to learn what the rocks seem to offer, and picnickers come to find solitude and contentment.” For more information, go to Wabaunsee County, Kansas.
Across the peaceful landscape echoes a sound – a sound of laughter and conversation. Thanks to those who made a difference and preserved this landmark, the benefits will echo to future generations.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are also available. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development.