Before jumping into today’s post, I want to put out a call for questions again. It’s been a while since we’ve done that, but if you have any questions about prairies, prairie management/restoration, prairie photography, or anything else you think I might be able to answer, please ask them in the comments section of this or other posts. Those questions often lead me to write a full post on a topic, but I also sometimes dedicate one post to answering a number of questions.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone (more than 60 of you!) who responded to my call for stories about how you were first drawn to prairies. A few more of you emailed me with your tale. While preparing to write this post, I re-read all those stories again and they are really lovely. In addition, as I was hoping, they provide some helpful insight into how people fall in love with prairies – and how we can help!
Based on those stories, most people discovered prairies when they were led to them by someone they knew. A friend, relative, professor, or local naturalist took them to a local prairie and showed them the wonders of grasslands. The second most common path was either growing up around prairies or moving to someplace where prairie was nearby and/or part of nearby recreational sites. Proximity led to familiarity, and that gradually built a relationship between that person and prairies.
Those who didn’t find prairies through a particular person or physical proximity tended to find them by either reading about prairies or because prairies were a place to pursue other interests such as birding, butterfly watching, or art/photography. For many of those people, of course, proximity still played a role. You have to have access to prairies in order to go look for birds, butterflies, or artistic opportunities. The path to those prairies, though, started with another pursuit.
Interestingly, a combination of factors was necessary to get most people hooked. The majority of people who said they grew up around prairies, for example, also mentioned an experience or a person who really got them to notice and appreciate those grasslands. People were fueled up by living near grasslands or by enjoying outdoor recreation, but it took a spark to finally ignite their prairie love.
My own story, it turns out, is a great example of that. I grew up in a prairie landscape and liked being outside, but it took a conversation with my friend Steve Winter to finally inspire me to fall in love with the prairies that had been in the background all along. Steve was my spark plug.
There’s a lot to learn from these stories. One takeaway for me is that for most people, there’s a two stage process to falling in love with prairies; a fueling stage and then a spark. The fuel can come from living in a landscape or neighborhood where prairie is nearby or all around you. Alternatively, the fuel might be a general love of the outdoors and/or a special attraction to a particular group of animals or plants. It might be gardening, birding, nature photography, or trail running. There are a lot of ways to fuel up a potential prairie enthusiast.
The second stage is the spark, and the spark almost always comes from another person. That person might be a relative or a field trip leader, a writer or photographer, or just a friend who is already excited about prairies and shares some of that enthusiasm. In one way or another, that person ignites the fuel within someone and off they go!
Here’s where you come in – all of you reading this. How can you help built up the fuel in people around you? You can’t (usually) get people to move to a landscape full of prairie, but there are ways to bring prairie to people’s yards or neighborhoods – or to draw attention to what already exists. Initiating local prairie restoration projects, encouraging and facilitating the use of native wildflowers in gardens, and educational programs that get people interested in birds, butterflies, or plants are all terrific examples of building fuel. There are countless other options.
And then… Be the spark plug. Share your passion about prairies with those around you. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to care. Talk about why you care. Invite people to visit the prairie with you so they can see it through your eyes. If you’re a photographer, don’t just share your photos, share the stories behind the photos – not just the subject matter, but how you felt and why you were there in the first place. If you’re someone who likes to organize things, organize an event at a local prairie. There are lots of ways to do this. Choose the ones that fit your personality.
However you do it, just do it. Be the spark plug.