On one of the first cool days of fall, Spring Creek Prairie is setting up for their annual Hoot n Howl fall festival. Even at midday, the tallgrass glowed with fall gold and shimmers of auburn. On the northernmost ridge of the property, a unique ceremony was taking place. Four people were handed wire cutters and – as quickly as they could – opened a gateway to Spring Creek Prairie’s newest 310 acres.
“It started with John Becker [a SCPAC board member] saying, ‘we should have a fence-cutting’ instead of a ribbon cutting,” said Meghan Sittler, SCPAC’s Center Director. “But we loved the idea, so we ran with it.”
Dozens of guests had met in the Grand Prairie Hall to celebrate the acquisition, which will connect the prairie’s trails to Lincoln’s Prairie Corridor on Haines Branch, eventually opening a twenty-mile round-trip route all the way to Pioneers Park. A small caravan of hayrack wagons took guests to the edge of the property. From this ridge, you can see Lincoln and the State Capitol building in the distance.
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird recognized former Mayor Chris Beutler, who was instrumental in the vision for this continuous passage of tallgrass prairie and a trail, a project which was launched in 2012 but has roots dating back to the City and County’s first Comprehensive Plan in 1948.
“It’s like building a Cathedral,” said Mayor Gaylor Baird. “We might not be here to see when it’s done, but these important steps are generational. It’s an incredible project…I want to specifically acknowledge the leadership and the vision of Mayor Chris Beutler, who really has steered this corridor to success and inspired so many others to get involved. Mayor, I hope you’re feeling really good today.”
Dave Landis, Chair of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District Board, referenced a metaphor from Amitai Etzioni, about long-term planning: “The first four steps, stare at your feet. Make sure that the step you’re about to take is incrementally an improvement from where you are, so that every step is one step closer to where you’re going. And on the fifth step, look up. See the horizon, see the path of the destination you’re off to, and make sure you’re on the right path to the destination you desire. In 2012, Mayor Beutler and several others took a fifth step.”
Hiking up to the ridge, the party had to look down for a different reason – there are still cattle grazing here.
Restoration of the property will be a long-term, ongoing project. However, the land has never been plowed or developed, instead it was used as grazing land, just as it had been for bison going back thousands of years. In the immediate term, Audubon’s team of ecologists and land managers will complete wildlife surveys, remove invasive woody species such as Eastern red cedar, plot out trails, and update their grazing plans.
“In many ways, we are at a crossroads regarding the legacy we leave for future generations,” said Nicole Fleck-Tooze, Director of Solidago Conservancy. “An essential part of this legacy is locally led conservation, with communities protecting the places that matter most to them… As our community grows, we need to make sure people can stay connected with nature and open space. These corridors protect unique landscapes for future generations. They support climate resiliency and a thriving community.”
Kristal Stoner, Executive Director of Audubon Great Plains, stressed that continuous habitat for wildlife and connected trails for the community are major achievements, but that everyone involved in this work is focused on the long-term.
“We can’t just buy the land, we can’t just preserve it; we can’t stop there,” Stoner said. “We have to make sure that the community can experience this – and that they realize ‘This is something precious, this is something worth preserving into the future.’”