In a dedication ceremony at Centre High School Feb. 21, rancher’s wife Annie Wilson of Elmdale provided an overview of the information available on three Flint Hills maps given to Centre schools a few months ago. The maps were sponsored by the Flint Hills Discovery Center, Manhattan.
“It is really fun to visit schools and help kids get excited about being in the Flint Hills,” Wilson said. “Many of our students think they are ‘from nowhere.’ The map exhibits help them realize they are actually from a very special place.”
Wilson explained that just 4 percent of the original tallgrass prairie in North America still exists in the Flint Hills. It has four types of grasses — big bluestem, small bluestem, switch grass, and Indian grass — and contains 58 species of wildlife and plants.
The exhibit also shows earth cycles, cattle and beef production, our rich Native American heritage, the importance of fire, and the recreational and artistic potential of the landscape.
“Ranching preserves the prairie,” she said. “We need to preserve our last 4 percent.”
Wilson said people from all over the world visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve at Strong City. She told the story of a Japanese visitor. At one of the lookouts on the ranch, he saw buffalo grazing and nothing but waving prairie grass as far as his eyes could see.
“I have never seen anything so beautiful,” he was heard to say.
Wilson and her husband, John, operate Five Oaks Ranch west of Elmdale.
Inspired by hikes she took in the Flint Hills, she wrote poems that later were set to music.
Her foray into singing and song writing was encouraged by Friday night jam sessions at Emma Chase Café in Cottonwood Falls. She plays guitar.
She is a founding member of the resulting Tallgrass Express String Band established in 2004 and has been the Flint Hills Balladeer since 2013 for Kansas Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.
In her new role as Flint Hills map and education leader, Wilson continues her mission of increasing an awareness of the Flint Hills.
“If our kids feel a strong pride and identity in this place, we hope more will choose to stay and make their lives here as adults and future community leaders,” she said.
More information is available at the map project’s website: www.flinthillsdiscovery.org/map.