Although the 2013 Symphony in the Flint Hills at Fort Riley is now a memory for those who attended, one impact of the event lives on through a restored section of tallgrass prairie that sits atop Fort Riley’s historic Grant Ridge just south of Marshall Field and I-70.
Named in honor of General Ulysses S. Grant, Grant Ridge formed the southern boundary of the original 1853 Fort Riley Military Reservation. At that time, the ridge offered a quintessential view of the Flint Hills—one unobstructed by a single tree.
Unfortunately, over the years the ridge was invaded by Eastern red cedar and locust trees, which threatened both native vegetation and wildlife. The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, warns that prairie tree invasion harms grassland-nesting birds and robs the native grasses of water and sunlight. “One acre of cedar trees consumes up to 55,000 gallons of water a year,” said Greg Kramos, Private Lands Biologist with the program.
In “Tree Invasion” (Kansas Wildlife and Parks magazine, Volume 60: Sept-Oct 2003), wildlife biologist Randy Rogers challenged Kansans to guard their prairie:
“Those of us living on the Great Plains must come to realize that it is as much an act of redemption for us to kill trees that invade our prairies as it is for others to plant trees in a forest clear cut . . . Our responsibility is to guard our precious remaining prairies for ourselves and our children, for spectacular prairie chickens and tiny grasshopper sparrows and for the other people and creatures of Earth.”
In preparation for the 2013 event, Symphony in Flint Hills advisory board member and former education chair, Michael Stubbs, saw this as “a unique opportunity to return Grant Ridge to its former glory and provide the public with a very visible example of prairie restoration.”
“A trademark of Symphony in the Flint Hills has always been its expansive view of the tallgrass prairie,” said Marty White, Symphony in the Flint Hills board chair. “When we first toured this year’s Artillery Parade Field concert site, the only Flint Hills view was one of a prairie in decline. Since our mission is focused around heightening the appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie, we felt compelled to do our part.”
Following that initial visit to the site, Stubbs helped coordinate a partnership between the Geary County Commission, rancher Richard Roeser, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Kansas Grazing Land Coalition, the Westar Green Team, the U.S. Army-Fort Riley DES-Fire & Emergency Services and Symphony in the Flint Hills, Inc. to remove invasive trees from 170 acres, which included Grant Ridge. The Special Provisions section of the partnership agreement noted that the project would “… offer an excellent opportunity to educate the public on the threats to the Flint Hills of Kansas and will allow us to demonstrate practices that can benefit our native prairie ecosystems.”
Brad Loveless, Director of Biology and Conservation Programs at Westar Energy, and a member of the restoration crew commented, “With the encroachment of trees, it was a great surprise to see what high quality prairie grasses and forbs still exist on Grant Ridge. The grass has not been overgrazed and it is spectacular in terms of diversity and quantity of plants. It’s a remarkable prairie you don’t often get to see.”
Work on the project was completed prior to this year’s June 15 event thanks in large part to the unique collaboration of public and private organizations—a partnership that Symphony in the Flint Hills hopes will serve as the foundation and inspiration for future preservation efforts.
The southern end of Grant Ridge can be visited at Freedom Park, south of the Interstate-70 Marshall Field exit 301.