Over 97% of land in Nebraska is privately owned. For this reason, land available to the public emerges as pockets of treasured grasslands, wetlands, and prairies across the state tucked between county roads, along riverbeds, and in loess canyons.
We didn’t know about Bobcat Prairie, as it was acquired by the city while we lived in Colorado. When we moved back, some dear friends told us about it and we’ve been regular visitors ever since. Bobcat Prairie is around 300 acres of land including tallgrass prairie, a winding creek, and a unique hill slope wetland. Nestled on the margin of the last glaciers that extended down to the Great Plains and the rivers that flowed eastward from the Rockies, part of it feels like walking through someone’s cow pasture, where grazing is utilized as a management practice, and part of it feels like a riparian forest with towering cottonwoods that must be over 100 years old. Management crews stash some fencing equipment in an old boxcar that sits on the property…maybe it was a stock car? I always wonder how it got there and why.
I’ve observed an interesting pattern over the years as someone who spends much of their free time on public lands. Many users often feel that they must keep public land secret, and they don’t want more people finding “their spot”. I know that some users may leave pet waste on trails or not close gates or leave trash etc. That’s a less-desired possibility within the nature of the commons.
Conversely, I’m of the mindset that getting more people in the places we love creates a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of these spaces and the wildlife that reside in, pass through, and rely on them. People won’t protect what they don’t know about, and they certainly won’t protect something that feels like it excludes them. Sharing spaces with others can ignite a chain reaction. I would argue that creating memories with people we love on public land is a powerful way to write these special places on our hearts and motivate us to return again and again.
When my family visits the Prairie we often spend hours exploring and it’s easy to do. Every nook of the property has something new and interesting to reveal. The Prairie ignites my childhood love for the unknown. That’s why when Stephanie and Ian asked me about family photos, I knew it would be a perfect place for their boys to explore.
The prairie had a prescribed burn not long before our session and I love the contrast of the burn colors against vibrant greens in the photographs. On the way back to the cars, I told the boys we could try the cedar berries and popped one into my mouth. “Are they yummy?” they asked me. I told them it was for everyone to decide for themselves. They eagerly picked berries, tried one, and immediately spat them out. We also collectively asked Stephanie to show off her prairie dress by twirling around like a Laura Ingalls Wilder character might do.
It’s a true joy to experience a piece of land through the seasons, to get to know its landforms and inhabitants. With that joy often comes a sense of responsibility to protect and preserve. When I see these photographs, I see a family who may return to this space again, who might tell their friends and loved ones about it, who might continue to create memories here and be invested in it for the long haul.
Thanks to Lucas for being my gracious assistant this night and to our friends Pete and Kelly for introducing us to this wonderful space. And of course thanks to Stephanie, Ian, Sawyer and Beckett for such a fun night.
If you’d like to learn more about this prairie and the greater project it’s part of, you can do so here: Prairie Corridor website.