April 22, 2020
One of the tasks I had as director of Cross Wind Camp and Conference Center was oversight of the grounds. The center was located on 61 acres on the outskirts of a rural Kansas town. Prior to my arrival the camp had kept the grounds as lawn, a job that took all week and then began again the next. I figured there had to be a better way. While I was doing other on-line research, I came across an article on the Tall Grass Prairie. Until the invention of the steel plow in 1837 the root systems of the grasses made plowing impossible. The wooden plows broke, and the new iron plows caked up with the clumpy soil. Deere’s steel plow sliced right through and the Great Plains were open for cultivation.
Over the next century the prairies rapidly disappeared and were replaced by fields of wheat. In areas where rainfall or irrigation made wheat growing impractical, the natural grasses were replaced by hay. The band of native grass that once stretched from Kansas to Colorado and from Canada to Texas was now the fastest disappearing ecosystem in the world. Hoping to do my small part in preserving these prairies, and not wanting to spend days on a mower, I let the grass grow that first summer. Then we inspected the growth and decided on three areas with about 12 acres where we could recreate the prairie. This provided lawn for camp activities and nature trails for eco-visitors.
Prairie ecosystems are not just the big five grasses, they are also the abundant wildflowers. Many states have begun to scatter native wildflower seeds along with native grasses in the medians after new road construction projects. This means they are also following my lead and not mowing these areas, at least until after the spring bloom. What I did not know was how hard it was to grow native grass and flowers. I assumed you just throw out the seed and let nature take its course. Native plants thrive because they spend a lot of early energy building a deep root system. That is what allows these plants to survive in the dry summer months. The existing grasses flourished the second season, but it took two years for the flowers to gain a foothold. I guess I do like some flowers.
THOUGHTS: There are many reasons to preserve the endangered ecosystems of the world. One is like my unwillingness to mow; another is to preserve the natural beauty of our world. Perhaps the best is the fact that these ecosystems are what allow humans to survive. When we cut down the jungles of the Amazon or the old growth forests of the Northwest, we are depleting natures natural ability to remove carbon dioxide from the air. One outcome of the pandemic has been a slowing of industry and fewer cars on the road. Earlier this month satellite images from space revealed the lights of cities in central China, something pollution had blocked for decades. The earth is good at repairing itself, we just need to give it a hand up. If it is possible, Stay home. Stay safe.