Reclaiming the prairie

Chad Frey
Flint Hills Counterpoint focuses on 14 acres in rural Kansas, just north or Peabody, where the tall grass prairie will be restored.

According to Susan Mayo of the newly formed Flint Hills Counterpoint, the tall grass prairie is “the most decimated ecosystem in North America”

That’s why the rural Peabody resident teamed up with documentary filmmaker Cyan Meeks to form Flint Hills Counterpoint.

“The Flint Hills can latch onto that idea and what it means in their head,” Mayo said. “It is one of the few places that has tall grass prairie. There is about 2 percent left of the tall grass prairie left in the world. It is a unique ecosystem. … The Flint Hills are beautiful.”

Flint Hills Counterpoint focuses on 14 acres in rural Kansas, just north or Peabody, owned by Mayo. The project will focus on land restoration, while pulling in community leaders to experience the transition. A series of events are planned.

“About half of it wooded, and half is in brome (hay) right now,” Mayo said. “.. Our goal is to make it more conducive for wildlife.”

The project will focus on a riparian buffer zone, making sure there are the right kind of trees.

“We planted close to 300 new trees in the spring,” Mayo said. “There is another area that will be a windbreak areas. We are in conversation with the wildlife department to put in native [plants].”

According to the Kansas Historical Society, The Flint Hills are perhaps the most well-known geologic areas in Kansas. Stretching from Marshall County in the north, to Cowley County in the south, this region is made of a series of gently sloping hills. The Flint Hills area has the most dense intact tallgrass prairie in North America. Created during the Permian Period, the flint or limestone, was difficult to plow and not as nutritious for plants. Buffalo and elk once were plentiful in the area, which proved excellent for ranching.

“We want a place that people can visit and stroll through, and a place that is conducive for wildlife,” Mayo said. “... Rural counties are sometimes underserved in that area, in the arts.”

A barn is being converted into a performance space with a stage, sound and video system.

Specialists from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Kansas Forest Service will guide the reclamation process of the project and are providing 90 percent of the funding of the reclamation process.

The project just received a $50,000 Our Town grant from National Endowment for the Arts, one of 51 projects selected nationwide for funding.

The grant will support Flint Hills Counterpoint in an arts programming project formed in partnership with the rural Marion County communities of Peabody, Marion and Hillsboro to encourage the engagement, investigation and celebration of the tallgrass prairie.

The project will include two years of prairie bus, walking, and bike tours of natural springs, farms, wildflowers, and edibles interspersed with surprise art experiences including installations, collaborative music, dance and other performances by the community with guest artists.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of several events this spring, but organizers will be creating new events.

“We will meet with the board in August to see if we can shift to fall, or if it will shift to next year,” Mayo said. “... We don’t have any dates right now, because of COVID.”

The celebrations culminate in 2022 with a site-specific multi-media exhibition by the project’s key artists Mayo and Cyan Meeks. Meeting as Tallgrass Artist Residency artists in 2018, each was moved by the other’s work and inspired to collaborate. They will be the cornerstones of a 2020 celebratory walking tour and on-site audiovisual performance comprised of a string quartet, video projection and sound recordings from the field that will be adapted into an experimental documentary film.