The concept for American Prairie Corridor began 25 to 30 years ago and is directly related to my job as a professional archaeologist. As an archaeologist, I am tasked with evaluating particular parcels of land slated for development and compiling a prehistory and history of the use of that land over the past 13,500± years that humans have been on this continent.
As a way to understand the possible land uses of a particular parcel, I began to envision the landforms and physical environment as they would have existed throughout various time periods, while attempting to consciously ignore modern cultural features of houses, roads, fences, electric poles and other intrusions into the natural environment.
I would look at the way a hill was sloped, or how it offered a flat bench perfect for camping thousands of years ago. I would look at a stand of willows or cottonwood on a hillside that should not be there, but were, because they signified a spring. I would examine the pebbles in the creeks to determine if they contained anything useful for making stone tools, and generally just let my mind wander into the past to envision the land as the prehistoric peoples saw it. In a way, I was very much living in the past.
I have spent the majority of my adult life working in natural environments, but always ahead of the bulldozers. I knew that when I was done and the sites were documented and the report was written, the bulldozers would come and begin the process of leveling everything I had seen to begin the development project for whichever client I was working for.
Because of my love for wide open spaces and the Great Plains, in 2018 I formed American Prairie Corridor (a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation), in part out of concern over the precipitous decline in ground nesting prairie birds and the Monarch butterfly. There was no question; the project had to be large and bold in order to make a difference for the persistence of the great diversity of prairie species. While the primary purpose of American Prairie Corridor is the restoration of prairie grass and forb species, there is also a great opportunity for science education and ecotourism.
American Prairie Corridor is envisioned as a 3-mile-wide restored grassland corridor through the mixed-grass prairie that will encompass 2.7 million acres and stretch from Mexico to Canada. The pathway selected for the corridor follows the Central Flyway for birds and a main fall migration route for the Monarch butterfly. It will be bounded by a highway on the east, later to be designated the American Prairie Corridor Highway. The corridor will be completed through outright land purchases, grants, conservation easements, life estates, and donations. With this vision, the biodiversity of the Great Plains will get the chance to stay connected and protected.
For more information on American Prairie Corridor, including the mission statement and ways to get involved, visit americanprairiecorridor.org.