News / USA

Tallgrass Still Waves Undisturbed on the Plains

But it’s only a fraction of the 'Sea of Grass' that once grew there

Delicate flowers pop up in the Kansas tallgrass prairie. (US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Delicate flowers pop up in the Kansas tallgrass prairie. (US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Ted Landphair
One-third of North America - stretching from what is now Indiana in the Midwest westward to the Rocky Mountains - and northward from Texas deep into Canada - was once uninterrupted prairie, where Plains Indians hunted free-roaming bison, elk and antelope.  
    
A “sea of grass,” the first Europeans called the never-ending prairie. Others called it the “Great American Desert,” thinking that nothing but wild grasses and flowers could grow there.  

They were wrong. That sea of grass is now America’s breadbasket.

But following more than a century of settlement and cultivation, only two significant pieces of the great tallgrass prairie survive, on hills in eastern Kansas too rugged to farm.
Tallgrass Still Waves Undisturbed on the Plains
Tallgrass Still Waves Undisturbed on the Plainsi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X


Ranchers bring their cattle - and a herd or two of bison - there to graze where millions of bison once tramped.

In 1996, the nation’s only tallgrass preserve was established when the owners of the Z Bar-Spring Hill Ranch sold their 4,000-hectare property. Not to the federal government but to a private organization called the National Park Trust.  
A footpath winds through the Konza preserve. (earlycj5, Flickr Creative Commons)A footpath winds through the Konza preserve. (earlycj5, Flickr Creative Commons)
x
A footpath winds through the Konza preserve. (earlycj5, Flickr Creative Commons)
A footpath winds through the Konza preserve. (earlycj5, Flickr Creative Commons)

Thus, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve became the nation’s only privately owned national park. But government employees manage it and give tours.

It’s a land of subtle beauty, especially when the sun gets low and grasses produce spooky shadows. And in winter, when ice storms create a frozen wonderland.

Four kinds of grasses thrive there: big bluestem, little bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass. Each flowers differently in the spring. And waves slowly nearly every day, since the wind seems to always blow there.  

Ninety kilometers away is a larger remnant of the prairie on another former cattle ranch. Called the “Konza Prairie” after a Kansas Indian tribe, it gets few visitors because it’s operated as a facility where researchers test the effects of climate, grazing, and fire.

Like parts of the African savannah and South American pampas, the Konza and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve are native prairies. They have never been plowed.  

The conservation groups that own them intend to keep it that way, so that what one writer called “earth’s eternal lullaby” - the tallgrass prairie - can endure.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid