Like an endless field of green, the tallgrass prairie stretched from Kansas to Indiana and from Texas to Canada: a thriving ecosystem of plants and animals that fell victim to man's "progress". The rich soil so typical of the tallgrass prairie was perfect for agriculture. Fortunately, the Flint Hills region serves as the last bastion of hope for the tallgrass.
A millennium ago, what evolved into a vast prairie of tallgrass actually was a prehistoric sea. Not the endless abyss of ocean that covers so much of the globe, but a shallow sea of water that - over a period of several hundred million years' time - created a landscape of white limestone and flint. As the waters receded, what was left was rocky land not quite good enough for plowing, but very good in fact for pasture. Mother Nature's natural life cycle in the prairie consisting of the four seasons, wildfires and animal grazing had all the necessary ingredients to sustain the tallgrass and its delicate ecosystem.
Prairies thrive in areas with too much water or rainfall to be considered "desert" yet not enough water to create and support healthy forests. In fact, the environment that stretched across the United States created a network of three specific types of tallgrass: in the West, the East, and the tallgrass in the Flint Hills region of Kansas are all ecologically diverse. The tallgrass ranges from a height of several inches to over 8 feet in locations. All due to the presence and effect of rain, fire and grazing.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a new concept in the world of parks. What is left of the tallgrass now extends from the Nebraska border south into northern Oklahoma. The distinctive flint hills are flat-topped with arcing slopes, that have formed on the limestone and shale layers that lie underneath, creating a unique landscape that reflects a period that is now lost to time.
The Kansas of today is the result of million of years on evolution. Starting out as an enormous bed of shallow water and shoals referred to by geologists as the Permian Sea. We now know that the Permian sea existed during a specific period of the Paleozoic Era, which saw the earth's oceans rise and fall several times, leading to the creation of many types of environments.
The prairie national preserve is the result of the fore sight of a handful of legislators who realized the importance of the tallgrass and its vanishing ecosystem. In the ensuing ten years since the prairie national reserve was created, the park has thrived and is meeting it's goals of educating the public not only with regards to the tallgrass and it's varied flora and fauna, but also on a way of life that will never been seen again in this lifetime. Interactive programs have been instituted at the Preserve that demonstrates the life and times of the settlers: thanks to the efforts of volunteers who demonstrate how cabins were built, live stock cared for and more.
Added to this agenda is a network of hiking trails and refurbished on-site cabins and artifacts. Collectively, the tallgrass prairie lives again, if only in a smaller dimension.