History of the Friends Land
PURCHASE OF FIRST 40 ACRES
Prior to 2004, there had been discussions about how the Friends might acquire some land along the south border of Homestead National Historical Park (formerly Homestead National Monument of America). This land was owned by the Charles Ensz family. The Homestead wanted to establish a border to protect the Osage Orange trees on the property line and the primitive bur oak trees in the creek area. At the time, with limited funds in the bank account the Friends could not buy land. On Oct. 13, 2004, the Friends received $101,000 from the Opal Shum estate. The final amount Shum willed to the Friends eventually came to approximately $124,000. In her will Shum asked that these funds be used by the Friends of Homestead for the benefit and support of the Homestead National Historical Park.
Serious discussion then began about buying 40 acres of land that abutted the south boundary of the Homestead. In January 2005 the Friends' board of directors gave authorization to contact the Charles Ensz family to try to secure the first option to buy the land adjacent to the Homestead. In April 2005 a purchase agreement to buy 40 acres of land for $ 00,000 was signed by the Ensz family. Included in the agreement was the right to purchase additional land within a two-year period. The Friends closed on the property in July 2005. Looking to the future, in February 2005 the Friends board of directors had already agreed that if the Ensz family would sell the Friends the first 40 acres and also agree to sell more then the Friends would start the process of securing a $250,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to buy another 100 acres.
PURCHASE OF ADDITIONAL 100 ACRES
In February 2006 a $ 250,000 grant from Nebraska Environmental Trust was applied for. In early October 2006 we received notice that the Friends had received the grant and that the money was coming in a few weeks! On October 27, 2006, the grant for $250,000 was deposited into the Friends bank account. In August 2006 a purchase agreement to buy 100 acres for $250,000 had been signed by the Ensz family contingent upon the Friends receiving the $250,000 grant. The Friends closed on the land purchase in late October or early November of 2006.
The Ensz family had been renting the land to a local farmer and the Friends continued the same arrangement in 2007 and 2008. The Friends eventually want to give the property to the National Park Service (Homestead National Historical Park) so discussions began about how the Friends could restore the land to its original prairie condition before transfer to the NPS.
The Friends started researching USDA farm programs to see if anything was available that would provide the Friends with an annual payment and also help the Friends with the prairie restoration. In April 2008 the Friends discovered the CRP-SAFE Prairie Chicken Program. In May 2008 the Friends approved researching the program. In September 2008 the board approved signing the application to enroll the Friends' land into the program. In October 2008 the application was signed and in December the FSA approved the application and on December 24, 2008, a 10-year contract was signed.
The 10-year program was "tweaked a little bit" so that the NRCS, Prairie Plains Resources Institute and the Nebraska Game and Parks would be able to provide the seed and seeding at no charge (a savings to the Friends of approximately $45,000). The overall goal is to restore the land to its original prairie condition and at the same time provide excellent habitat for the prairie chicken.
The deal provides an advantage to the Friends because the Friends will be able to eventually turn the property over to the NPS in its original prairie condition, establish prairie chicken habitat and receive an annual income for its efforts.
In May 2009 the seed was planted. Over 160 native prairie grasses and forbs along with some bushes for prairie chicken habitat were planted. Not all of the 140 acres was seeded to original prairie. Only 114.1 acres qualified because under this program only land that had been farmed for the last five years was approved. This took out the pasture in the southwest corner, the buffalograss buffer strip along the south edge of the Homestead and a few small miscellaneous areas. During the 10-year contract the land must be burned twice and grazed once. On March 25, 2012, the first burn of the prairie was successfully carried out.