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 the Monument. 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 10-13-04 the Friends received $ 101,000 from the Opal Shum estate. The final amount Opal willed to the Friends eventually came to approx. $ 124,000. In her will Opal asked that these funds be used by the Friends of the Homestead for the benefit and support of the Homestead National Monument.
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 us 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 $ 100,000 was signed by the Ensz family. Included in the agreement was the right to purchase additional land within a two year period. I believe, if my records are correct, that we closed on the property in July, 2005. Looking to the future, in Feb., 2005 the Friends board of directors had already agreed that if the Ensz family would sell us the first 40 acres and also agree to sell more then we 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 April, 2006 it was still tentative but we felt that we had a very good chance to get the grant. In early October, 2006 we received notice that we had received the grant and that the money was coming in a few weeks! On 10-27-06 the grant for $ 250,000 was deposited into our bank account. In August, 2006 a purchase agreement to buy 100 acres for $ 250,000 had already been signed by the Ensz family contingent upon us receiving the $ 250,000 grant so we were good-to-go. I think we closed on the land purchase either the end of October or in 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 wanted to give the property to the National Park Service (Homestead National Monument of America) so we began discussions about how we could restore the land to its original prairie condition before transfer to the NPS.
We started researching USDA farm programs to see if anything was available that would provide us with an annual payment and also help us with the prairie restoration. In April, 2008 we discovered the CRP-SAFE Prairie Chicken Program. In May, 2008 our board 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 approx. $ 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 we will be able to eventually turn the property over to the NPS in its original prairie condition, establish prairie chicken habitat and receive a nice annual income for our 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. All seed and seeding was done at no cost to us. 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.