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After 200 Miles, American Prairie Reserve Comes Into View

For two weeks this September I had the opportunity to walk, canoe, and bike more than 200 miles across the American Prairie Reserve region of Montana with a group of scientists, artists, adventurers, and others who have found a connection to the prairie landscape and our project. It was a chance to reconnect with the grassland and wildlife that we are working hard to preserve for future generations and think big about the next steps in building this park.  By slowing down time and minimizing the need to respond to outside demands, we let the nature experience and the magnitude of this extraordinary project really sink in.

I’ve counted up my accumulated trips to the Reserve in the past fourteen years—now exceeding 150. Few have provided me the spaciousness and time that I really crave to enjoy what is there and to imagine other’s relishing their experiences —hopefully hundreds of years into the future. I invite you to take some time to slow down and join us on American Prairie Reserve to enjoy your newest park:

ABOVE: Moving slowly across the landscape on foot and bikes, the abstract numbers we use to describe the size of the landscape become very real. You can fully immerse yourself in nature with nothing man-made as far as the eye can see. With time, details like the colors of the prairie grasses, interactions of the insects, and the slow movements of the bison herd all begin to stand out.

ABOVE: The rolling terrain through the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is some of the most interesting and inspiring cycling grounds in the American West. More than 3,000 miles of interconnected two-track roads like this within the American Prairie Reserve region make for an endless variety of cross-country biking adventures.​

 

ABOVE: Public access is at the heart of American Prairie Reserve. Throughout the Transect, we talked about the centuries-old concept of “freedom to roam” that is common in many countries around the world. The idea is that people and wildlife should be able to move about and enjoy — within reason — natural areas whether they are public or, in many cases, even private lands. We are working to post more interpretive signs to enhance visitor experiences and help them learn about the history, animals, plants, and the landscapes that surround them.

ABOVE: One of the most inspiring parts of the Transect was crossing the Sun Prairie region of American Prairie Reserve. We started our bison herd ten years ago with just a handful of bison.  Today the herd has grown to over 600. Bison are a keystone species, and as the herd continues to grow toward historical numbers, we will see their profound impact on the prairie ecosystem.

ABOVE: Away from the distractions of everyday life, we had lots of time to talk about the future of American Prairie Reserve. While we all knew we would return to full inboxes, the time we took to think big about increasing wildlife populations, softening boundaries around the Reserve to help the flow of people and animals, and enhancing the visitor experience gave us more clarity about our goals and confidence to move forward.

ABOVE: The Native American history in the American Prairie Reserve project area is very rich. More than 25 generations of modern day Native Americans inhabited this land and human artifacts dating back as far back as 12,000 years — the approximate termination of the Wisconsin Glacier ice sheet — are common across the area. Our campsite on day four of the Transect was at the exact spot Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce crossed the Missouri on their nearly 1,200-mile attempt to evade the advancing U.S. army in 1877. Now river floaters camp here on American Prairie Reserve lands on their way down through the famed White Cliffs.

ABOVE: American Prairie Reserve boasts a wide variety of topography ranging from rolling hills and river bottoms to grassy plateaus.  The diversity makes for many recreation opportunities including hiking, biking, canoeing and sightseeing.

ABOVE: Part of what made the Transect experience so special was the variety of people who joined us.  Each person's unique experience and connection to the prairie made conversations richer and gave us a new appreciation for the project. In this picture, landscape artist and American Prairie Reserve board member Clyde Aspevig captures the view from camp.

 

Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, points out that we are quite evolved as a species regarding our ability to think fast and make quick decisions, at times all day, every day. He also points out thought that thinking slowly, and thinking with others slowly, about really complex issues is often the smartest way to explore quality options in problem solving and strategy development. It is the idea of going slow in order to go fast. Moving slowly these past two weeks is likely to help our project go faster in the future and allow us to proceed with more confidence and clarity. “We should do this more often,” everyone said. And we will.

See more photos of the trek and my journal entries on the Transect website.