Oklahoma Panhandle State University
Panhandle Conservation Districts, No Man's Land Historical Society, NRCS and OPSU partner on museum By Clay Pope on 03/18/2014
The following article was written by Clay Pope, Executive Director Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, and is used here with permission.Oklahoma City—The historical ecosystem of the Oklahoma Panhandle will be better reflected in the landscaping of the No Man's Land Museum at Goodwell thanks to a partnership between the Cimarron County Conservation District, the Texas County Conservation District, the Beaver County Conservation District, Oklahoma Panhandle State University (OPSU), the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the No Man's Land Historical Society. According to Cimarron County Conservation District Chairman Hal Clark, this project is designed to help educate future generations on the unique characteristics of the Panhandle regions ecology.
"This region is like no other place on Earth," Clark said. "The grasslands of the Panhandle region once extended like a great ocean of vegetation as far as the eye could see. Whether it was referred to as 'el Llano Estacado,' the Great American Desert,' or 'No Man's land,' this area and its native plant system was unique. It's our hope that through this partnership, we can give visitors to this facility at least an idea of what kind of plants dominated the landscape prior to plow-up."
Through the planning and planting of native grasses and through additional technical assistance related to the area surrounding the museum at Goodwell, the three Oklahoma Panhandle Conservation Districts and NRCS are working in conjunction with the No Man's Land Historical Society and OPSU to provide a type of living history in the form of landscaping on the facility grounds. By incorporating native plant species into the area surrounding the museum, they hope to not only add to the aesthetic quality of the facility, but also provide a new teaching tool to help visitors better understand the ecosystem that is native to the region.
"We can't restore the prairie to its native state," said Neil Hyer, Chairman of the Texas County Conservation District. "Our hope, however, is that by seeing the types of grass that once dominated this area, folks can better appreciate what this was like when the first settlers came here. That not only will help them understand what the native condition of the range was at that time, it will also help put in better context the idea of the changes that took place on the land that allowed the dust bowl of the 1930's to happen."
Dr. Serafin Ramon, a retired professor from Oklahoma Panhandle State University and a board member of the No Man's Land Historical Society also expressed support for this effort saying "We are very appreciative of this partnership and the ability it will give us to help educate visitors to our museum about the native ecosystem. This work will help enhance the mission of our museum and better tell the story of the natural history of our region. We are very appreciative of this effort."
According to Dr. David Bryant, President of OPSU, this work to educate future generations about the natural history of the Panhandle Region goes to the heart of the mission of Panhandle State.
"The mission of our school is to provide higher education primarily for people of the Oklahoma Panhandle and surrounding areas through academic programs, cultural enrichment, lifelong learning experiences, and public service activities. This work at the museum touches all of those areas," Bryant said. "By providing a new teaching tool that helps shed light on the economic, cultural and natural history of our region we are helping to educate all of our areas residents, both young and old, of the role our natural ecosystem has played and continues to play in the development of this region. This is a great partnership that helps tell a story that we need to all hear."Beaver County Conservation District Chairman Thomas Heglin agreed. "When you leave the ground exposed to the wind in this country, it's going to blow," Heglin said. "Nature provided cover in the form of grasses that not only covered the top of the soil, but had root systems that helped hold the land together and better hold moisture. We learned the hard way that we need to follow this model in our farming systems and keep residue on the land to reduce the exposure of the soil to the elements. By practicing conservation tillage especially no-till and strip-till, by taking highly erodible land out of crop production and putting it back to grass, by practicing better pasture management and by adopting methods that restore soil health, we have shown that you can reduce soil erosion and keep the land productive. We hope this effort at the museum can help tell that story as well."
According to Hal Clark, this cooperative effort fits well with the missions both of the No Man's Land Historical Society and of the local conservation districts.
"Both the historical society and the local districts are charged with the conservation of something precious," Clark said. "The purpose of the No Man's Land Historical Society is to keep alive for future generations the history of the region and of those who settled the land. The mission of the conservation districts is to conserve and protect our natural resources while we feed and clothe the world--not just today, but on into the future. It's been said that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. It's our hope that by working with the No Man's Land Historical Society, we can help ensure that the lessons of the Dust Bowl are not lost on future generations and that we all have an appreciation for how to best manage the land."