Prairie Lands in Indiana
Recent visits by the crew of Hoosier Rails to Trails Council to the Panhandle Pathway and Nickel Plate Trail, gave proof
|Tom Bawcum and Kathy Kegarise speak at the Dedication of the Peninsula Prairie Grass Plot|
positive of the importance of preserving rail corridor trails from ecological, historical, and conservation points of view.
A largely forgotten part of Indiana’s past is the prairie. Though never part of the main expanse of Plains prairie, Indiana’s patrimony of the eastern most sections of prairie might be all but lost, except, in part, for the railroads.
Prairies, as I learned from this recent event, have extremely dense vegetation. Vegetation so dense, that, according to experts speaking, that the three and one half acres of prairie saved by the Panhandle Pathway, has a root system that weighs 30 tons!
Railroads maintained a right of way that farmers and developers often avoided encroaching upon, helping preserve the prairie on each wing of the rail beds. Herein lies a fascinating and fortunate twist of fate. Steam engines threw off sparks as they chugged down the rails. Sparks caught the adjacent prairies on fire, burning off the top growth and permitting the reemergence of new growth from their extensive root system. This helped preserve the prairies from the 1800s.
|Ashley talks about the importance of the Prairie in terms both literal and lyrical, briefly explaining the uniqueness of these grasses and the value for the landscape of America.|
The Kankakee River prairie once teemed with the densest wildlife on the planet, in the area of the great Beaver Lake. The former Lake area and prairie, once the hunting ground of European and Eastern kings and royalty was drained for farmland.
The draining of the Lake proved inhospitable for the elk and buffalo that once grazed on Indiana soil. The black loam of the vast prairie and forested area that made up most of Newton County, Indiana, nowadays, just patches found in small, old cemeteries and along some rail road right-of-ways.
Sequestered prairie grasses and forbes (non woody, non-grass plants) have been preserved for the appreciation of later generations, like ours almost exclusively, in these rare places.
The higher densities of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects and the unique flora need collaborative effort to survive.
Every effort to preserve these living legacies will help to extend to future generations an experience of the beauty, wonder, and unique character of Indiana’s historic natural landscape.(article by Mario Vian)