Help save native tallgrass prairie and maintain existing property at Touch the Sky Prairie!
raised by 8 people
2021 Foundation Updates - we've grown!
Touch The Sky Prairie has grown to nearly three times its original size since it was first established 20 years ago. The property was the vision of internationally-known wildlife photographer and Luverne native Jim Brandenburg, and was the first acquisition in what is now 12,249 acres of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge scattered throughout western Minnesota and northwest Iowa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manages the lands, which are open to the public for walking, hiking, nature photography, birding and general exploration.
“It’s grown piece by piece,” Brandenburg said, adding that the foundation is now working to purchase several small parcels adjacent to the prairie. One such purchase was completed in June. If all are completed, Touch The Sky will grow by another 150 acres, including the land he grew up on.
“The thing I’m most moved by, and the sacred, most precious and valued thing in my life is Touch The Sky Prairie,” Brandenburg shared. “My experience there is unique to anybody because I was born there. I touched the right people and they touched the right people and we touched the prairie.
“Touch The Sky … isn’t just land, it’s heritage,” he added. “What do we leave behind? I don’t need to leave another photograph behind, another movie. The story and context is how you change people, (encourage them) to cherish the land.”
Todd Luke, USFWS District Manager based in Windom, oversees management of the Touch The Sky Prairie, where periodic burning and short duration, high intensity cattle grazing are used to replicate nature and encourage growth of native prairie plants and flowers. The entire goal is to develop the land as it would have looked prior to settlement.
As the very first tract acquired as part of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Luke said seeds harvested from Touch The Sky are now used to establish other native prairies.
“We’re always open to working with landowners, whether it’s to purchase land or to work with them on conservation easements that allow haying and grazing,” he said of USFWS’ goal in building the Northern Tallgrass Prairie. “It’s really about preserving history. That’s one thing we try to promote (at Touch The Sky). People can escape into history — you see the sky touching the ground, and that’s how it got its name.”
Touch The Sky is home to a diverse array of plants and wildlife that is hard to find anywhere else, Luke said. While it isn’t as varied as native prairie would be — at one time a native patch could have been home to 800 species of plants — Luke said there continue to be new plants discovered every year.
More than a decade ago, Brandenburg discovered the federally endangered Western Fringed Prairie Orchid growing on what was the very first land purchase for Touch The Sky. “It’s one of the rarest orchids in North America — probably one of the most beautiful,” Brandenburg shared. “I could not believe it,” he added of the discovery. “It was on the Loosbrock tract. It was overgrazed; it looked like a golf course when we bought it. That little plant persevered for 100 years.”
Luke is certain other species will persevere as well on the complex, and not only is USFWS monitoring the presence of plant species, it’s also tracking animals.
“Recently, we possibly discovered a new species of prickly pear cactus that hadn’t previously been found in Minnesota,” Luke said, noting it is also a federally endangered species. “We’re also looking for prairie chickens out there every year. We’ve documented some in Pipestone County, and we have high hopes that they’ll find a home at Touch The Sky Prairie soon.”
Meanwhile, there have also been archeological finds at Touch The Sky, from bison rubs on rock to petroforms, which are larger formations of Sioux Quartzite used for spiritual or other functions by Native Americans.
According to Brandenburg, more than 30 archeological finds have been documented at Touch The Sky, including an interesting circle of rocks one Native American called a Vision Quest site.
“There’s just so many different reasons to go out there,” Luke said.
“The prairie can move people,” Brandenburg added. “The experience of walking across the prairie, once you get hooked on it, I almost see a deeper intensity than people who are hooked on the north woods. There’s something about prairie passion that somehow runs a little deeper.”
Roughly one-half of 1% of prairie remains in the U.S.
* Excerpts from the article, Minnesota prairie perseveres at Touch The Sky, Daily Globe, by Julie Buntjer https://www.dglobe.com/northland-outdoors/7095574-Minnesota-prairie-perseveres-at-Touch-The-Sky
"Born on a small prairie farm to children and grandchildren of turn of the century emigrants, I first experienced a world without trees. My earliest memories are of a landscape with an incessant wind and a bright open-sky sun. At a quiet and more than shy fourteen I made a first attempt at a new language. The resultant image of a shy fox from my second hand three-dollar camera spoke back to me with a loud, profound and life-changing voice."
"Nearly fifty years later that voice is still whispering in my ear. The dialect is the same, even though I have tried many versions along the way. I traveled and photographed grand landscapes of the world. Many were covered with alluring luxurious forests and jungles. I even fulfilled a boyhood fantasy to live in a romantic wilderness log cabin beneath towering pines. But the visual language dialect that still seems to translate with the deepest meaning in my work is that of the open sky prairie-like landscape." - Jim Brandenburg
National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Jim Brandenburg, his wife Judy, and many dedicated supporters in Luverne, Minnesota established the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation in 1999. The foundation’s mission is to promote, preserve and expand the native prairie in southwest Minnesota.
Through numerous projects, the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation educates and heightens awareness of the prairie’s irreplaceable beauty and significance. Jim’s spirit resides in the prairie - it is his childhood home and is where his career began to bloom. By establishing the Foundation, Jim has turned his passion for the prairie into a lifetime commitment.
The prairie was once the continent’s largest ecosystem; today, it has become rare and one of the most fragmented, leaving less than one percent of the original Northern Tallgrass Prairie in the upper Midwest intact. It is arguably North America’s most endangered ecosystem. Through fragmentations, ecosystems that had once relied on its geographical size for its diversity become disintegrated, causing an imbalance in the intricacies of the native environment. Aside from loss of habitat and equilibrium between predators and preys, fragmentation is responsible for inbreeding among species. In turn, inbreeding will result in weakened species that can no longer survive in an already challenged ecosystem. Although such corruption of habitat occurs very quickly, it will take generations of carefully managed restoration to reverse the damage.
The Brandenburg Prairie Foundation, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have purchased over 1000 contiguous acres of prairie land in Rock County, Minnesota creating the “Touch the Sky Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge.” Together, they have developed a 15-year management plan for its restoration. With time and continued effort, hundreds of native species will return – the tall grasses, the songbirds, flora and native wildlife. Their dream is to see the bison roaming “Touch the Sky Prairie” again.
If you would like to participate in permanent protection and restoration of the native prairie in southwest Minnesota, please become a member of the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation. www.brandenburgprairiefoundation.org.
This fundraiser supports
Brandenburg Prairie Foundation Inc