- Historic Sites
The wheels of westering settlers moved through an ocean of grass. It was a rich natural heritage, but within a century we almost destroyed it
April 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 3
Today, driving through the Great Plains region, the traveller will often pass signs bearing the initials “U.S.,” with a bunch of grass between the “U.” and the “S.” This sign indicates he is travelling through National Grasslands. On June 20, 1960, nearly four million acres of federal lands were so designated. They are managed by the Forest Service and are set up as outdoor recreational areas, range land, wildlife habitats, and fishing preserves. These lands are public domain. Artificial lakes have been created for water sports and for conservation purposes; thirty campsites now dot the Plains and more are being prepared; hunters flock to the Dakotas each year for the ringneck pheasant, to Wyoming and Montana for geese, duck, and Barbary sheep. There are over three million acres of unposted land to which we have free access, and it is all covered with grass. The names of the new grasslands are old and familiar: the Comanche in Colorado, the Cimarron in southwest Kansas, the Pawnee in northeastern Colorado, the Oglala in Nebraska, the Kiowa in New Mexico.
But the National Grasslands are only the most visible results of what will go down in history as one of the major conservation efforts of modern times. Thanks to the croplandconversion, range-reseeding, and land-management programs, the grasslands of the ten Great Plains states are in better condition today than they have been for seventy-five years. The environment has come full cycle: once more a rich carpet of grass holds the Plains in place, letting the land fulfill itself—and the men who live on it and draw their sustenance from it.