We Heart the Great Plains

We Heart the Great Plains

In 2017, the Center for Great Plains Studies will celebrate all the reasons we heart the Great Plains. We'll tap our Fellows, who work closely with Plains topics, our Great Plains Graduate Fellows, who are building their careers studying the region, and you! Tell us why you heart the Great Plains on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag it #IHeartTheGreatPlains — we may feature your story.

Why does the Center Heart the Great Plains?

Because the Great Plains is unlike any other place on Earth. It’s a place where you can see the horizon and feel the vastness that so many before must have felt looking out on the grasslands. It’s a place where people are tied to the land – economically, culturally, historically. And it's a place of environmental priority, hosting a range of endangered species and habitats. Join with us this year, and make a case for why the Great Plains is important – and loveable.

Tell us at the Museum!

Visit the Great Plains Art Museum's lower level and use the magnetic words to tell us why you heart the Great Plains. Make sure to take a picture and tag it with #IHeartTheGreatPlains

Heart wall

I Heart: Adventure Great Plains

How Mountain Biking the Great Plains taught me to love the region’s history, its landscapes, and its peoples.
By David Vail, Assistant Professor of History, University of Nebraska Kearney

I love the Great Plains, although I’m not originally from here. I grew up in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley where outdoor learning and adventures were part of everyday life. Mountain biking connected my passion for the outdoors and exercise, but it also taught me about interconnectedness. Relationships between wildlife, landscapes, development, and local communities all came into view as I rode the trails. I learned at an early age about the challenges, tensions, and benefits of using landscapes.

As I followed my passions for environmental and agricultural history to the grasslands, first to Kansas State University for my doctorate work and then, to UNK, I found a new joy in teaching, researching, and traversing the grasslands. Kansas’ Flint Hills offered a wealth of trails, beautiful vistas, and bison. Although challenged in elevation, riding paved and gravel roads and dirt trails placed me in the middle of Great Plains life: wind-whipped grasses; scurries of red squirrels; hunting bobcats; occasional red fox; distant humming of agricultural airplanes spraying fields of wheat or corn.

Riding the Great Plains also allowed me to have a more direct relationship with noxious weeds and pests. But poison ivy and loan-star ticks didn’t stop me. Then, at the end of a mountain biking day, the sunsets. To stop and see the sky and land meet in a beautiful array of colors renews my passion for the land even while I’m weary from the ride.

My recent move to my dream job of teaching history at UNK has also led to new dreams about the beauty of Nebraska’s environment, agricultural landscape, and local communities. I am excited to ride Kearney and adventure beyond to other Nebraska places.

Hope to see you out here.

David Vail
David Vail's bike

Why Do I love the Great Plains?

P. Stephen Baenziger, Professor and Nebraska Wheat Growers Presidential Chair, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

I love the subtlety of the Great Plains. It is easy for some to love the mountains for their grandness or the oceans for their vastness, but when you remove their size, what is really left? They are great to visit and perhaps to live if you have everything important brought to you. It does not grow there. As for the Plains with their fertile soils, you have the breadbasket of the world and a sky taller than any mountain and wider than any ocean. Underneath that sky, it is the small things that really matter. The rustle of the prairie, the surprise bloom in an arid land, the hidden animals, and the paths that led the pioneers to their destinations. Their wagon ruts still survive over a century later. It is the subtlety of the land that stirs my memories and my life.


I Heart: Plant-insect relations

The Great Plains is home to a very special plant-insect relationship between yucca plants and yucca moths. These moths pollinate yucca flowers and lay eggs in them, and the moth's larvae feed on the produced seeds. The plant cannot produce fruits without the moth, and the moth's larvae cannot survive without the seeds of the plant. This high specialized and rare relationship is called a nursery pollination mutualism and it's is one reason PhD student Shivani Jadeja hearts the Great Plains. Jadeja studies yucca-yucca moth nursery pollination mutualism at Cedar Point Biological Station, Neb. As part of her field work, she collected videos of the moths at night under IR light.


“Why I Love the Great Plains”

Dr. Matthew Bokovoy, Senior Acquisitions Editor, University of Nebraska Press

The intensity of the landscape, weather, and moods of the Great Plains immediately cast its spell upon on me when I moved to Kearney, Nebraska in August 1999 to work at UNK. Since that time, I’ve spent sixteen of the last eighteen years on the Great Plains from Central and Northern Oklahoma to Eastern Nebraska. The Great Plains receives the volatile weather that sweeps down from the Artic and front-range of the Rocky Mountains to irrigate a broad agricultural region with vast international connections. When I travel down through the Kansas Flint Hills to Northern Oklahoma, I feel like I’m upon a vast land ocean that reminds me of southern France and the Pacific Ocean of my youth. The Great Plains was not susceptible to the levels of foreign investment and gentrification in real estate experienced in East and West Coast metropolises, thus making it a great place to ride out economic neoliberalism and plan for retirement. Great Plains cities are low key and manageable, reminding me of the mellow vibes of 1970s San Diego, where I grew up.


Birding Wonders

"As a Great Plains Fellow, Associate Professor in English and Native American Studies at UNL—and lifelong birder—I love the Great Plains, above all, for its avifauna, of course!"

Thomas Gannon, Associate Professor of English at UNL

Right: Bald Eagle at Holmes Lake, Lincoln, Neb., / Jan. 6, 2017. Bald eagles are normally seen in the Great Plains during winter months.

Bald Eagle

20 Things

"I am a New Yorker. Since moving out here, I’ve become acutely aware of the flyover bias that people sometimes have of this area. During my time here, I quickly found many things that I love about the Great Plains (and Nebraska specifically)."

Read Louise's Top 20

Louise Lynch, Great Plains Graduate Fellow, Entomology, UNL

South Dakota snowscape