Steve and Glenda Schmidt of McPherson own a ¼-section of land north of Lehigh featuring Santa Fe Trail (SFT) ruts, remnant and restored prairie, and an old farmstead. They purchased the acreage 10 years ago with a passion for preserving the ruts. That passion has grown to include conservation of prairie as well. Both Steve and Glenda enjoy managing their land on a regular basis through mowing the farmyard and trails, cutting/treating trees, and establishing a rotating regime of haying, prescribed burning, and most recently grazing the prairie. They are in year two of the cattle experiment of light grazing with one heifer (Charolais breed) per 10 acres. The Schmidts have found exotic species on site including musk thistle and sericea lespedeza and are constantly vigilant in monitoring and removing any new infestations.
Steve has extensively researched the cultural history of this parcel and written an interesting paper that summarizes its colorful story including use of the SFT, establishment of a “road ranch” (1860’s equivalent of today’s convenience store, bar, and grill), and the bustling existence of a one-room school house.
Steve and Glenda responded to the following questions:
How do you use/interact with this prairie?
“Enjoy observing the various plants and animals. Learning to identify the various grasses and forbs and learn about their life cycles. Teach others about the prairie ecosystem. You cannot appreciate the prairie driving by. You really need to get out and walk in it, and get down close to the plants. Show history buffs the trail ruts and tell them history of the farm. Manage the farm to encourage prairie grasses and forbs and discourage trees.”
What have been the three most interesting experiences you’ve had with this prairie?
1) “Sept 11, 2001 we had planned a picnic at the farm, along with friends visiting from Denver. We went ahead with the picnic. It was a splendid evening – mild temps, no wind, spectacular sunset, no jet trails. Total peace and tranquility at the farm, while terror and chaos gripped the east coast.”
2) “January 1, 2009. In preparing to burn some tree limbs on a rather calm day, the fire, no bigger than a shoe box, was pushed out into some grass by a little puff of breeze, then another little puff of breeze and away went the fire. When it was all over about 80% of the farm had burned. Fire departments from five towns responded and saved the old barn, firewood piles, and storage containers. A spectacularly bad day.”
3) “Getting close to nature. So close to new-born fawns you could have reached out to touch them. Within one step of a nesting turkey and she stayed on her nest. Observing all sorts of creatures. Seeing how the grasses and frobes are so splendidly made and watching their life cycles. No artificial lighting, and actually being able to see the stars and experience the brightness of the moonlight. Spectacular sunsets.”
What is your hope for this prairie in 100 years?
“The trail ruts being just as visible as they are today. The prairie staying prairie and not being invaded by trees. The grass healthy and preventing erosion (the ground is highly erodible).”
© 2013 Dyck Arboretum