Rediscovering the Great American Prairie: Previewing a documentary-spanning project

The North American Prairie is a land mass that covers about 1.4 million square miles. It stretches north to Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada and south as far as Texas -- and it once made up 40 percent of the continental United States.

Even so, many people find the plains to be flat and boring -- but not Robin Walter, who's about to set out on a summer trek to raise awareness about an environment she finds fascinating.

The Great American Prairie is quickly disappearing. Thanks to vast commercial development, a landscape that once seemed untouched is vanishing before our eyes. According to "The Tallgrass Prairie: An Endangered Landscape," a report by Pam Graham, factors such as drought, bison grazing, lightning fires and deliberate burns set by Native Americans have reduced the tall grass prairie to 2 percent of its size as of 1990.

"Rediscovering the Great American Prairie," Walter's project, aims to alert the public about the situation. She and close friend Sebastian Tsocanos plan to ride on horseback from the short-grass prairie of eastern Montana all the way down to the western edge of Missouri, covering over 1,400 miles in four months.

The journey isn't meant to attract notoriety or fame. Rather, it's intended to focus attention on what she considers to be the least protected biome on Earth.

Walter grew up in Colorado Springs and rode horses from an early age. While attending Colorado College, where she studied creative writing, she met Tsocanos, whose focus was environmental sciences. During a three month trip to Patagonia, they were struck by the decaying state of the world's prairies. Upon returning to school (she graduated earlier this year), the two friends brainstormed a way they could educate people about prairie conservation.

In March, they started planning their trip, which promises to be a multi-media extravaganza: They will be filming and producing a documentary about what they see throughout their travels.

Among Walter's missions is to increase her already vast understanding of the great plains conservation, as well as to publicize the opportunities and challenges of the biome in partnership with the Colorado College State of the Rockies project. Like Walter and Tsocanos, this conservation society champions the importance of public land and conservation in the West.

With help from Colorado College, plus corporate and personal sponsorships, the team exceeded its $12,000 budgetary goal for the expedition. Upon their return, the pair hope their documentary will educate and enlighten, as well as remind people that the plains aren't boring at all.

Walter and Tsocanos plan to kick off their adventure in Montana on June 29. To offer support, visit the Rediscovering the Great American Prairie website.

More from our Things to Do archive circa October 2011: "Ted Turner, media mogul and buffalo protector, to accept award in CO for saving prairie dogs."

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Noah Reynolds

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