Continuing with my recent theme of good books about the Great Plains, I would like to share a bit from a little gem I recently came across called Prairie Spring by Pete Dunne. Mr. Dunne is Vice President of the New Jersey Audubon Society and Prairie Spring is an account of a recent trip he took with his wife out to the Great Plains to catch the Sandhill Crane migration as well as other events of the natural world in the springtime. Mr. Dunne fills his book with lighthearted musings on the separation from nature that so many modern people have developed. He also mentions the often overlooked fact that the Great Plains (in the interior of the country) was, somewhat surprisingly, the last place in the United States to become “settled” by people of European descent.
On my wall, at home in New Jersey, is a map of the United States that once instilled geographic acumen in the minds of students in a schoolroom in Cape May. Published in 1851, it shows an America east of the Mississippi that would be familiar to all but West Virginia residents and bears a passing resemblance to what western residents are familiar with today. California was a state. So were Texas, Missouri, Iowa, and Louisiana.
Lying between the Rockies and those Mississippi bordering states are “territories” (like Kansas and Nebraska) and the “frontier,” an extensive region colored appropriately yellow (like winter grass). Romantic images of westward expansion notwithstanding, America’s last frontier was not the Far West. It was the geographic middle that pioneers hurriedly bypassed to get someplace else. Someplace that could support life.
As evident in this passage, the Great Plains, once referred to as “The Great American Desert” has always had an image problem. One of the goals of the Great Plains Trail to make strides toward correcting this image problem by allowing for a recreational experience that can connect people to this amazing place that is so rich in natural wonder as well as human history.