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Go to picture story of Leon Lachat's farm;  the Homestead and upper field;  resident of another Nature Conservancy property!  Recent news and interested bystanders...

WARNING:

Material below should not be mistaken for official documentation. "Minutes" are only notes taken by this WEBpage, and are unofficial.  (Ad Hoc Committee keeps official ones on file with the Town Clerk.)   "Scope of Purpose Specifically"...Section (3.) has been edited, leaving out much detail.  In these "unofficial minutes" on the Internet, names are not mentioned other than recording of the members present and voting, or if there is a quorum or not, and not every meeting has been attended in its entirety by "About Town."
  

OUR INTERPRETATION OF NEWS:

Now in 2012, new vision for Lachat brings  split in the form of two 10 year leases (plus we think half a dozen 15 year extensions provided) permitting the Town of Weston to act to preserve farming character ("passive" must be released on the Town's lease) of the two fields and homestead, and Nature Conservancy to preserve woods.  Limits to "improvement" of buildings NOT to interfere with historic preservation efforts for the homestead.  Special Town Meetings opproved this - reports here.


THE  AD  HOC  CONSERVATION/NATURE  CENTER  COMMITTEE:  HISTORY...
Link to new page--POST-TOWN MEETING "YES" VOTE--for new phase of development of this project.

At the Board of Selectmen's Meeting of March 1, 2001:
The Board of Selectmen of the Town of Weston, Connecticut...do hereby establish an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee...for the purpose of investigating the feasibility of creating, developing and erecting, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy of Connecticut, Inc....a Conservation or Nature Center on the real property owned by the Town of Weston...and the Conservancy and located at 106 Godfrey Road...

THE CHARGE
Purpose, Organization and Membership

In summary, the seven member Committee reports to the Board of Selectmen four (4) times a year and can't make any decisions or spend any money.  The members are seven (7)--four (4) from the Nature Conservancy and three (3) from the Town of Weston.  Since a number of these individuals do not come from Weston, this is not an "official" Committee of the Town (at least that is the way "About Town" interprets Section 1.I of the charge).

Scope of Purpose Generally

(a)  the Committee shall consider and recommend the scope of the Project, taking into consideration the items set forth in this Paragraph and in Paragraph (3.) below;

(b)  the Committee shall consider, develop and recommend a cost estimate for the Project, including architectural, landscape, engineering and other costs and expenses, and may investigate and propose a means of financing the same;

(c)  the Committee shall investigate, identify and recommend such additional governmental approvals as shall be necessary for the successful completion of the Project, and shall informally seek the comments and suggestions of the Weston Planning and Zoning Commission, other Town Boards and Commissions, the people of the Town of Weston, and Lachat;

(d)  the Committee shall investigate and identify the environmental and educational advantages and values of the Project to the people of the Town, including students within the school of the Town, and such other people as are interested in the natural environment or in visiting the Lucius Pond Ordway Preserve...of the Conservancy, the lands commonly known as Trout Brook Valley and such other lands as are set aside for natural preservation or conservation purposes in or adjacent to the Town;

(e)  the members of the Committee appointed by the Selectmen shall work cooperatively with the members of the Committee appointed by the Conservancy and also with the Conservancy's State and National headquarters, officers, and offices for the purpose of developing a recommendation for the implementation of the Project, including the Conservancy's legal and accounting offices;

Scope of Purpose Specifically:
The Committee shall specifically consider and recommend the suitability for use, and the hours of use, of the buildings and lands described below:

A. The Lachat Barns
B.  The Lachat Carriage House
C.  The Lachat House
D.  The Lachat Garage
E.  Trails
F.   Parking
G.  Zoning, Wetlands, etc.
H.  Miscellaneous



U N O F F I C I A L    M I N U T E S (most recent - before design work began - at the top):
Norwalk HOUR editorial praises Weston for nature center planning...Selectmen forward request to Board of Finance Oct. 10 meeting...BD OF FINANCE OK's $26,000!  Lert the "master planning" process begin!
Wednesday, December 11, 2002 at 4pm, Weston Town Hall Commission Room
SPECIAL MEETING - click HERE for notes.

Thursday, October 10, 2002 at 4pm, Weston Town Hall Commission Room
AGENDA
1.  Discussion of questions submitted by Edgecomb Design Group (EDG) and framing of response/done; caution to make sure "meetings" as usefull..
2. General discussion of how and when this committee will proceed with the review of EDG's creation of the Master Plan for this facility/timing through the Spring.



Special Meeting Monday, September 23, 2002, 5pm, Town Hall Commission Room
AGENDA:
1.  Discussion and action on contract with architect/Edgecomb approved unanimously for $25,000
2.  Discuss scheduling of meetings with Boards of Selectmen and Finance/to be on agenda (s) ASAP
3.  Outline plans for first Committee meeting with architect:  October 15 (Tuesday) is good day for first (of 4) visits by Edgecomb Group.  Adjourned at @6pm

Special Meeting scheduled for Wednesday August 7, 2002 (to discuss contract with winning architectural firm) cancelled;  Special Meeting now scheduled for August 15, 2002 (Thursday at 5pm) - "Expected to be in Exectutive Session" with Edgecomb Group...it is reported informally that no action was taken after this executive session.

Special Meeting Thursday, June 20, 2002, 4pm, Commission Room - Edgecomb contract drafting - discussion re:  meeting with Selectmen - no quorum present, discussion of Edgecomb contract continues.

At School Building Committee Meeting, May 29,  Chair. of Ad Hoc Conservation/Nature Center and member of Building Committee who is a member also of the Ad Hoc Committee, present contract for Jim Edgecomb, architect, for advice - and get some (addition to contract language to secure working models of project)!  Next stop:  Board of Selectmen.

Agenda, May 9, 2002, 4pm, Ad Hoc Conservation/Nature Center, Commission Room
1.  Update on Nature Conservancy (State and National) to remain involved in Nature Center Project/report
2.- 4. Edgecomb group review, interview, meeting/preliminary discussion re contract upcoming
5.  Any other business

Feb. 14, 2002 at 4:10-5:10pm, Ad Hoc Conservation/Nature Center in Commission Room:
AGENDA:
1.  Proposal/contract from Edgecomb Design Group - status and process for approval/draft circulated for comments
2.  Review and discuss building criteria/not done
3.  Next steps/meeting with Selectmen in future; next Committee Meeting on March 21 (Special Meeting?  Not held in usual place, no agenda posted).
4.  Any other business as may properly come before the meeting/Nature Conservancy on hold with this project temporarily as national and state branches reassess education function and boundaries of common interest within their own organization;  outreach reconsiderations.
Ad Hoc Conservation/Nature Center Committee Meeting

January 10, 2002, 4pm, Town Hall Commission Room - meeting lasted for a bit more than one hour (quorum present).
  • Decision (split vote) re: architect selection
  • Discussion but no decision re:  Committee proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2002-2003
  • Any other business - reporting soon to Board of Selectmen.


  • Regular Meeting AD HOC CONSERVATION/NATURE CENTER ADVISORY COMMITTEE DEC. 13, 2001
    With a voting quorum not present, this Committee discussed the two finalists and planned a tour of Vermont properties of one of the firms.  A final review of proposals will be made by the third week of December with estimates to be prepared for funding of Master Plan for Lachat Property as possible budget item FY03.  This meeting lasted until 5:30pm.

    SPECIAL MEETING(AD HOC CONSERVATION/NATURE CENTER ADVISORY COMMITTEE)
    AGENDA - October 30, 2001 at 4pm in Commission Room at Town Hall:
    With all members present, the following items were covered--but no decision was made regarding who was the "winner" of the competition.  After further review and checking, a decision will be forthcoming in @two weeks, meeting time and place T.B.A.
  • Discussion of presentations on October 11...
  • Discussion and decision re selection of an architect to complete the project;
  • Discussion re possible costs of the project. (?)
  • Approval of the minutes (?)



  • THE COMPETITION:
    On Thursday, October 11, 2001, with all members of the Committee present, beginning at 4pm in the Commission Room at Town Hall, the Ad Hoc Committee on a conservation/nature center met to hear from invited architects.  These firms were selected to submit ideas for "A Gateway to the Den."  Each was to have an hour to explain their vision (s).  Although only one architect's competition presentation was observed by "About Town,"  at another time, the other two architects have been observed interacting with the committee.  They are all creative and different, and so it would not be appropriate for this writer to comment upon the single final presentation viewed on October 11th.  "About Town" left at 5pm, at the completion of the first presentation.

    Board of Selectmen approved $7500 for architectural competition (Town's portion)...and now so has Board of Finance...full speed ahead on competition for architects to get best design for the uses established in the "charge."
    Presentation Meeting October 11, 2001 (Thursday) at 4pm in the Commission Room at Town Hall...AGENDA:
  • Interviews of three (3) architects re their proposals for the Nature Center Project (4, 5 and 6 PM - each interview will last 45 minutes with 15 minutes thereafter for discussion by the members) - link to About Town review of presentations.
  • Approval of the minutes

  • Any other business


    Minutes of August 9, 2001 (4:30pm) meeting in Town Hall Commission Room:
    Present:  Ron Jeitz, George Guidera, Dick Bochinski, Michael Greenberg, Steve Patton
    The meeting came to order, minutes were approved and discussion took place of presentation approach for upcoming Board of Finance meeting.  Adjourned at approximately 5:15pm.

    Incomplete minutes for July 17, 2001 posted for 3:30pm Special Meeting:
    Members present (Ronald Jeitz, Richard Bochinski [taking official notes], Kate Ebbot, Michael Greenberg, Steve Patton, Mary Monroe Kolek). Discussion of draft wording for Architectural Competition (by invitation) document;  timing requires, first, meeting with the Board of Selectmen, presumably at that Board's next meeting.  One point made during the discussion of data available to competitor-architects was the necessity to provide similar topographic maps of the Lachat property to all competitors.  A discussion ensued re: parking requirements.  "About Town" left this Ad Hoc Nature Center meeting @4:30pm - it was not completed at that point, and thus the report above may not be comprehensive.


    ARCHITECT INTERVIEWS:
    Meetings of June 12, June 13 (Regular Meeting of June 14 cancelled) and June 28 were public meetings for the purpose of interviewing architects.  (See "Scope of Purpose Specifically" above to determine what the Ad Hoc Committee members were seeking in an architect for the Lachat project.)

    The tone of questioning at the interviews attended by "About Town" revealed that access to the site for vehicles is a point of traffic/neighbor possible concern.  Retaining the "farmstead" look is something both architects "About Town" observed favor.  The main house dates from the 18th Century and the out buildings have need of repair prior to change of use to something other than barns or sheds.    Please note that "About Town" was not able to be present for the second interview...the first architect, on June 12, and his staff, were questioned for an hour plus.  June 28 interview was attended for an hour and a half.



    Third Meeting, Thursday, May 10, 2001 at 4pm in Weston Town Hall, the Commission Room (where previously mentioned noises were no longer in evidence):
    Present: Ronald Jeitz, Richard Bochinski (taking official notes), Kate Ebbot, Michael Greenberg, Steve Patton, Mary Monroe Kolek.
    The meeting came to order at 4:10pm.  Minutes were approved (Bochinski, Greenberg).  A round-the-table review of observations of Weir Farm and the Wilton Historical Society ensued.  Discussion of education uses, office use of main house and fire controls occurred.   Names of likely architects were circulated and a review of the official direction to this AD HOC group from the Board of Selectmen took place.  Interview of the first architect will take place at an as-yet-to-be-posted Special Meeting for June 12.  It is expected that the AD HOC Committee will meet at 4pm to discuss their interview approaches, and then the interview itself will begin at 4:30pm in the Commission Room at Town Hall.  The meeting was adjourned after 5pm (?).

    Second Meeting, Thursday, April 12, 2001 at 4pm, in the Commission Room (beep), Weston Town Hall
    Present: Ronald Jeitz, Richard Bochinski, Kate Ebbott, Michael Greenberg, George Guidera, Steve Patton.
    The meeting came to order after not being able to find another meeting place (beep).  NOTE:  the smoke detector in the Commission Room, located near the ceiling, had a problem (perhaps needed new battery).  Discussion took place regarding:
      1. the site itself--which buildings were to be used by the Nature Center eventually--result of site visit
      2. the contracts with both Town and Conservancy--these were examined.
      3. discussion of retaining architect services after consultation with the Board of Selectmen
      4. size of parking lot necessary and its location
      5. actual program for the Center as it related to the Conservancy itself and
      6. when and how to apply for needed permits from the Town of Weston
  • The AD HOC COMMITTEE will visit other Nature Centers Saturday May 5, and may or may not be ready to interview architects at the next regular meeting (May 10)--possible need for Special Meeting in lieu of Regular one.  Adjourned at 5:30pm.
  • First Meeting, Thursday, March 8, 2001 at 4pm in the Commission Room, Weston Town Hall.

  • Present:  Ronald Jeitz, Richard Bochinski, Kate Ebbott (from The Nature Conservancy);  Mary Monroe Kolek, Michael Greenberg, George Guidera (from the Town of Weston);  Steve Patton, Executive Director of The Den;  First Selectman Hal Shupack of Weston.

    The meeting came to order a little after 4pm;  Ron Jeitz was elected Chair. and George Guidera Secretary.  It is expected to take a year to come up with recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.  The first step will be to meet regularly once a month on the second Thursday of each month at 4pm in Weston Town Hall and hold Special Meetings, properly posted, at other times.

    The next step will be to "walk" the Lachat Property on March 31, 2001, at 9am, meeting on the site at 106 Godfrey Road (notice to be posted in Town Hall).  Rain or snow date is April 21.  Adjourned before 5pm. Pictures of site below...





    From the ABOUT TOWN collection of snapshots of places and recent events in Weston are some views of the Juliana Lachat Preserve:  before there was a Committee there was the property - second part (10acres) at right, purchased at Special Town Meeting Thursday, October 28, 1999;  December 4, 1997 was the date of the Special Town Meeting purchase of the larger portion of Mr. Lachat's farm (left)..
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    Located on Godfrey Road, the Juliana Lachat Preserve is nextdoor to The Nature Conservancy; it is a former farm and was preserved for many years by its owner using the State of Connecticut's Farm and Forest Classification system to freeze taxes.
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    Another view of the field;  the main house and the approach from the easterly direction;  my favorite view (click to enlarge).

    On the "walk" mentioned above (in the March 8, 2001 minutes of the Nature Center Ad Hoc Committee), those attending will see, from close-up, the Main House (presumably they will go inside);  also to be viewed will be several outbuildings ("barns"[above] as well as blow up of "rear barn" and "garage")


    Land conservation benefits from economic downturn
    Peter Fimrite, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
    Friday, December 30, 2011


    Tough economic times have been a bonanza for land trusts and nonprofit conservation groups, which have recently been buying rights to California redwood groves, beaches, oak savannahs and timberland at a feverish pace.

    The shopping spree has resulted in the preservation of hundreds of thousands of acres of the state's most pristine and picturesque landscapes at a time when the country is slopping around in an economic wallow.

    The bargain prices from land investors and developers trying to get out of failed housing projects and real estate deals are among the very few positives in a debt-ridden state, where parks, preserves and historic sites are being shuttered and home and property foreclosures are occurring with disturbing regularity.

    "The bright spot is that there are opportunities that we haven't seen before, with lands on the market that are priorities for conservation," said Brent Handley, the western division transaction director for the San Francisco's Trust for Public Land. "And there are prices that we haven't seen before. We're looking at values that have decreased 50 or 60 percent since 2007."

    Land acquisitions

    The trust purchased 530 acres of oak woodlands and 2 miles of river in the Sierra foothills near Marysville in September and transferred it to the California Department of Fish and Game for permanent protection. The chaparral-covered land, which was once owned by the Excelsior Mining Co., had been scheduled to be bulldozed for homes, but the trust swooped it up for $3.5 million after the bottom dropped out of the economy.

    Handley said his organization also recently bought Bruin Ranch, a 1,773-acre oak woodland in the same area for $9.5 million. The land was on sale for $30 million in 2006. The trust has also agreed to pay $610,000 for 47.5 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains that was valued at $1.2 million four years ago.

    San Francisco's Save the Redwoods League, the Sonoma Land Trust and other nonprofits around the Bay Area have also recently signed deals that will preserve in perpetuity giant swaths of open space and forest.

    "There is just no market for development right now, so investors are looking to put their money someplace else, and this is happening across the West," Handley said. "We are actively working in the Bay Area and in Southern California with numerous owners looking for opportunities for conservation on their lands."
    Easement benefits

    Not all of the preserved land is changing hands. Hard economic times have opened up a new dynamic in environmental protection whereby preservation groups are buying easements that require the land owners to restore habitat and refrain from development.

    These conservation easements allow ranchers to keep ranching and timber companies to keep logging as long as they use environmentally sustainable techniques and the land is preserved.

    "The old way was trying to buy these lands and make them into parks," said Laurie Wayburn, president of the Pacific Forest Trust, which is based in San Francisco. "If you use a conservation easement instead, you can protect those public trust values for far less money than if you bought the whole thing."

    The forest trust and Roseburg Resources Co. obtained a $7.8 million grant this month from the California Wildlife Conservation Board to buy a conservation easement on 8,230 acres of forested watershed along Bear Creek on the flanks of Mount Shasta. The easement will restore and preserve 950 acres of sensitive forest habitat, old-growth trees and marshland.
    Logging continues

    The owners will get an infusion of money and still be allowed to employ loggers and harvest timber sustainably, a boon for an area that has been hard hit by the collapse of the once-thriving lumber industry.

    "This easement will protect clean water and habitat and create jobs in a way that you could never do if you took it out of private hands and turned it into a park," Wayburn said. "Ten years ago, timber companies were highly skeptical of these kinds of deals. Now, every single company in this state is looking at this and saying, 'This could make sense for me.' "

    The Trust For Public Land recently purchased a conservation easement on 150 acres known as the Black Swan Diggings, a series of ponds on a former mining claim in the Sierra foothills where a wide variety of turtles, frogs, egrets, herons, woodpeckers and other birds congregate.
    A big deal

    One of the biggest deals this year was by the Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, which purchased a $20 million conservation easement preventing development in the 49,678-acre Usal Redwood Forest, next to the rugged Lost Coast north of Fort Bragg. That deal, which allows the nonprofit Redwood Forest Foundation to use profits from logging to pay for habitat restoration, also included the purchase by Save the Redwoods League of a uniquely twisted stand of old-growth "candelabra" redwoods.

    The cheaper conservation easements are useful now that most state and federal funding has dried up. Philanthropists and private foundations have also tightened their belts, forcing buyers to sometimes recruit between six and eight funding partners.

    "We're certainly much more creative, and we have to search much harder for all the potential funds," Handley said.

    The availability of land is nevertheless a unique opportunity that, he said, conservation organizations, nonprofit trusts and foundations must seize.

    "There have been huge acquisitions by land trusts in the last couple of years and certainly many of the land trusts, like the Trust for Public Land, have been willing to acquire the land and hold it until funds are available," Handley said. "When a priority parcel is available, that is the time to acquire it regardless of what seems to be bad timing for the agencies and their budgets."




    California Fires Sparked by Tool, Officials Say
    NYTIMES
    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Filed at 11:22 p.m. ET
    May 10, 2009

    SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) -- The wildfire that has scorched 13 square miles and destroyed dozens of homes in the hills above this scenic coastal city was apparently sparked by a power tool being used to clear brush, investigators said Sunday.  Fire officials said someone, or possibly a group of people, was clearing vegetation on what appeared to be private land near the trail around the time the fire erupted Tuesday.

    ''Any time you use any power tool, there's always a possibility, especially if the conditions are right,'' said Joe Waterman, the overall fire commander from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

    Some Santa Barbara County residents recently received annual notices advising them they had until June 1 to clear potentially hazardous brush, county fire Capt. Glenn Fidler said.  It was not immediately clear whether the blaze originated in an area targeted by such a notice.  Officials declined to comment further about the type of power tool that may have been used, or if anyone could face charges.

    The fire has destroyed 77 homes, damaged 22 others and forced the evacuation of approximately 30,000 people to safer ground.  Evacuees from all but 500 homes had been allowed to return by Sunday night, as firefighters had the blaze 65 percent contained, aided by cooler, more humid weather.  Relieved to see their homes still standing, grateful residents paid tribute to firefighters by tooting car horns in their honor and posting large thank-you signs on their front lawns.  More than 4,500 firefighters worked to contain as much of the blaze as they could before the hot, dry ''sundowner'' winds that pushed flames on homes earlier in the week return, possibly as early as Tuesday.

    ''We have a window of opportunity right now to get our lines tied in and to get hot spots mopped up as good as possible because the next couple of days the wind is going to resurface again and we need to be prepared,'' said Kelley Gouette, deputy incident commander for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

    Fire officials over the weekend had lauded residents' removal of brush and fire-prone plants from their properties to bolster the defensible space needed to protect a house from a wildfire and keep firefighters safe while working in the region.  Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin recalled that a 1990 blaze took out 500 homes, although it didn't burn across as wide a swatch of land as the 13 square miles covered by this week's fire.

    ''More homes would have burned had they not done their defensible space work,'' Franklin said of the residents who gave firefighters the best conditions to work in.

    Richard Martin, a 73-year old retired University of California, Santa Barbara, chemistry professor, rode out the worst of the firestorm from a five-by-seven-foot concrete bunker he built to store important documents.  Martin and his wife, Penny, ducked in and out of the bunker to battle spot fires on the oak trees surrounding their four-level home tucked away near the Botanic Garden. But he also credited rooftop sprinklers, clearing brush and planting low, fire resistant plants around the edge of his home with its survival.

    ''All the trees the leaves are all dead because they've been scorched,'' Martin said, pointing out the glass door of his wooden deck. ''But those plants haven't been scorched. They look normal.''

    In 2005, California extended the required clearance around homes in an effort to bolster the defensible space needed to protect a house from a wildfire and keep firefighters safe while working in the region.  In Santa Barbara County, officials can also clear brush from unkempt property and charge homeowners for doing so. Franklin said they usually need to enforce that regulation on no more than a couple of homes a year.

    Firefighters say they are more likely to hunker down and try to save a home that has good defensible space because they have a better and safer shot at getting a handle on the blaze.

    In recent years, many residents have gotten rid of more volatile plant life, replacing it with fire-resistant gardens or just clearing it out entirely. Some have built fire safety into the construction of the homes themselves.

    Some residents are reluctant to hack down the tree branches that shade their homes and give them privacy in the rolling canyons above the city's downtown, where many houses can't even be seen from the main roads.  In the Painted Cave community, most homes are covered with branches and shrouded in trees, said Barry Flores, a Sacramento fire battalion chief working on the western front of the blaze.

    ''It's a firefighter's worst nightmare,'' he said.



    Restoration Row
    NYTIMES
    Timothy Egan
    May 28, 2008,  10:08 pm

    PAWHUSKA, Okla. – It is hard to love a land you don’t understand, and for most of my life I had no idea why anyone would ever live in the Great Plains – let alone love the place.

    Flat, featureless, boring. Those were the words I heard growing up whenever someone would mention the plains. My view was informed by Dorothy’s Kansas, which looked scary and Gothic even before the twister took her house and Toto, too.

    But then I spent some time here, mostly listening to people in the twilight of their lives tell about the land when it turned on them, during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. At the end of a long day of hearing stories, I would go for a run in the wind, and sometimes get a glimpse of the magic of the place — a pronghorn antelope in a sprint, a sky blushing pink, the quiet when the air finally settles.
    There are people with us still who remember the Great Plains in its birthday suit, grass as far as the eye could see, what Walt Whitman called, “that delicate miracle, the ever-recurring grass.”

    That land is gone to us, now. Once, the grassland in our midsection spanned at least 14 states, from Minnesota to Texas, the second biggest ecosystem in North America. It’s gone because the grass was overturned and the bison were chased off the land and the riot of biodiversity that evolved over 10,000 years was replaced by a few commodity crops to feed us.

    It’s not worth arguing over whether this was a good or a bad thing, because most of the intentions were good, even if the excesses were bad. But it always worthwhile to wonder whether humans can fix what they screwed up.

    And here, just north of this little town in Osage Indian country, I saw some evidence that the land can be healed. I saw shaggy-headed bison and their calves, several thousand of them, in a setting that was neither park nor zoo. I saw grass stretching almost to the horizon, flowering in parts, combed by the wind. I saw the sun dip behind the lilt of the Flint Hills, closing out a day with a burst of color.
    This miracle of restoration is the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, nearly 40,000 acres run by the Nature Conservancy. It is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth, according the stewards of this land – cowboys with advanced botany degrees.

    The conservancy bought this land in 1989 and then set out to bring it back. The two biggest missing elements – fire and bison – were returned. Both renew the grass, distribute seeds, and keep the carpet of big bluestem, wild rye and other species healthy.

    The result is somewhat astonishing. Over 300 species of forbs, grasses and flowers are here. And while this preserve is just a patch, an anchored Noah’s Ark of what used to cover much of the continent, it says something about restoration. Bit by bit, maybe some of what we lost can be brought back.
     
    I say this at a time when nearly all commercial salmon fishing has been halted on the West Coast. What used to be a rite of the season – a taste of the wild, spring Chinook returning to the Columbia River, the richest salmon on earth – is almost a memory this year.

    But look also at bald eagles that fly in all 50 states, a byproduct of strong laws and far-sighted bird lovers. From my house in a metro area of nearly 3 million people, I can see a pair of nesting bald eagles.
     
    We restore things to the wild, and in time, they return the favor. Think of Nick Adams, the psychically wounded veteran coming home to the nurturing water in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River.”
    So even with the sky here in Oklahoma rumbling and clacking, menaced by twisters rolling down Tornado Alley, there is just enough of the original plains at the Tallgrass Preserve to make flatland believers out of skeptics.

    You can see in the remains of a day the reason why people who came here a hundred years ago were so lonely — and, also, why they fell in love with the place.