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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Take a Walk on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

Take a Walk on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Preserved Realm for Natural Social Distancing 

“We come and go, but the land is always here.” —O Pioneers!

Perhaps a silver lining of our pandemic reality is that it allows us to rediscover, or visit for the first time, places much closer to where we live. Here in Nebraska we are surrounded by wide open horizons and the natural world of the prairie, and, if we can’t walk right out into it, we can easily drive there.

In Nebraska, an estimated 98% of land has been converted to crop land while the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie is among the 2% that remains untilled. To safely socially distance any time, our preserved 612 acres on the Kansas border is there for hiking, experiencing wide open vistas, wildlife, and summer wildflowers. Here you can also catch unique sunrises and sunsets and experience dark-sky viewing of the heavens. [It’s also a great place to bring a picnic!]

Willa Cather returned to Red Cloud frequently to visit family and friends and to “get out among the folk who like me for myself,” as she said in a 1921 interview. "The ideas for all my novels have come from things that happened around Red Cloud when I was a child,” she continued. “I was all over the country then, on foot, on horseback and in our farm wagons. My nose went poking into nearly everything.” The prairie landscape was both the defining backdrop and omniscient character in some of Cather’s writing—it also shaped her very soul.

She said of her love for Nebraska’s prairie land: "I was always being pulled back into Nebraska. Whenever I crossed the Missouri river coming into Nebraska the very smell of the soil tore me to pieces . . . . My deepest affection was not for the other people and the other places I had been writing about. I loved the country where I had been a kid, where they still called me 'Willie' Cather. I knew every farm, every tree, every field in the region around my home, and they all called out to me. . . .”

“Cather introduced a new way of seeing, placing us in landscapes of ‘obliterating strangeness,’ of saturating color and light. When you walk the Cather Prairie, you move not only backward in time but also out into symbolic terrain, one in which the self becomes a ‘something,’ in which a moment of supreme bliss is indistinguishable from death.”

—Alex Ross, “A Walk In Willa Cather’s Prairie,” The New Yorker

While our historic sites are not yet open, we encourage you to take a driving tour of our town buildings with our self-guided tour, or our “Country Tour” of other sites in Webster County related to Cather and her writing. This summer, why not venture out with your family in the secure comfort of your own vehicle and step out into Willa Cather’s prairie world?

"I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. . . ."

—My Ántonia


This month, the Nebraska Land Trust announced the purchase of a 1,147 acre conservation easement from Brandon and Kami Meyer, a local farm family and owners of land adjacent to the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. The Willa Cather Foundation identified the land as a potential site for conservation and helped to advocate for the easement as the Nebraska Land Trust managed the lengthy process. Half of the funding came from grants by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and NextEra Energy Resources. The other half came from a land easement program administered by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. “When visitors arrive at the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, they have the rare opportunity to see a 360-degree view of undeveloped land, said executive director Ashley Olson. She continued, "We are pleased to have played a small role in facilitating this conservation easement and are certain that future generations will also marvel at the unbroken horizon and unplowed prairie described in Cather’s writing."

The Willa Cather Foundation is also in the process of applying for “International Dark-Sky” certification after initial light readings have indicated that the land is a suitable area to pursue official dark-sky status—now even more possible with the additional surrounding protected land, thanks to the Meyer family.

For more information about the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, click HERE.