Great Pains for the Great Plains
Jarid Manos, a wild card amid the wildflowers at the Walsh Ranch. (Photo by Jeff Prince)
A wreck didn’t stop this local activist from efforts to save his beloved prairie.
By JEFF PRINCE
The arctic wilderness, buffalo, and the Great Plains have all suffered the ravages of humankind, and so has Jarid Manos, a man dedicated to protecting them. The founder and executive director of the Great Plains Restoration Council lost time in his quest to preserve nature after a motorist broadsided him last year.
That April 2004 morning, he had been on his way to meet a busload of school children and a Fort Worth Weekly reporter, to lead all of them on a field trip to prairie lands west of Fort Worth. He was kicking off what he calls the Fort Worth Prairie Park Initiative, a plan to establish a prairie reserve in Tarrant and Parker Counties. He never arrived, and, later that day, it was discovered he had been hospitalized with broken ribs, upper-body trauma, and glass dust in his eyes and lungs. About $30,000 in medical bills, a year’s time, and a bunch of pain later, he was back among the rolling hills dotted with mesquites, yuccas, wildflowers, and bluestem and buffalo grasses. He moved a bit creakily on a recent morning — his back still pains him — but the vegan health enthusiast was clearly in his element.
To Manos, the gorgeous prairie just west of Fort Worth is a refuge. He has nothing against the land’s owners, people with names such as Walsh, Beggs, and Bass, but it is not to them that he has come to pay respects. “Can you hear all the birds?” he said. “This is their home. You can even hear the insects. It’s like a buzzing symphony. We need this — as much as we need to eat and sleep — [in order] to have whole people.”
He wants ranch owners to put aside a combined, contiguous 20,000 acres as a nature preserve. Just before the wreck, Manos had tried to contact Malcolm Louden, manager of the Walsh Ranch, about the possibility of donating 2,000 of the ranch’s 7,275 acres. They played phone tag without ever talking.
While Manos recovered, the Walsh Ranch crept closer to becoming suburbia. There are no housing developments there yet, but much of the ranch is due to become a planned community. Grading for developments such as Vista West has begun nearby.
Some people listen to Manos’ dream and wonder if he can be serious. Texas ranches, especially near the Metroplex, are succumbing to sprawl because the money potential for developers and property owners is so large. Also, the increased tax base helps inner cities sustain and renew themselves. For many, especially those in the business of running cities, growth is the rule.
Fort Worth was once known as Queen City of the Prairie, a bustling town plopped down amid 1.3 million acres of grassland, a long finger of prairie bounded on the east and west by sections of Texas’ Cross Timbers country and stretching north and south of the city for miles. Now, only about 60,000 of those acres remain as prairie, with about a third of that already slated for development, Manos said.
“We can come up with creative, effective partnerships to protect our remaining ecology,” he said. “If the city could give so much money to the new Cabela’s megastore, it could make sure to protect a large Fort Worth prairie park that will still be here hundreds of years after Cabela’s is gone. The city and the public could put together the resources to accomplish this. There are also federal funds available for such critical conservation projects.”
Other ranches Manos plans to solicit include the Brown, Markum, Dean, and Veale spreads.
“It’s a lofty goal,” Louden told Fort Worth Weekly last week. “There is already gas drilling out there, so keeping it pristine is difficult. But I’m going to talk to him.”
Development plans at Walsh Ranch call for about a third of the property to be saved for open space. But it won’t be contiguous, and much of it will be parks and trails for the public. Preserving 20,000 acres stretching across multiple ranches now owned by many different people is a tall order. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing, Louden said.
“Think what our country would be like if we didn’t have dreamers like that,” he said. “We might not have Yellowstone Park; we might not have Big Bend.”
On June 16, Manos the dreamer will put his aching bones to the test as he begins a 12-day, 1,000-mile bicycle journey to Denver. A send-off party with entertainers and speakers is set for 6 p.m. June 15 in Sundance Square, in front of Jamba Juice at Third and Main streets. The “Great Plains Ride Challenge” is expected to raise awareness and money for his organization’s ultimate goal of building a million-acre contiguous prairie reserve stretching from Texas to South Dakota.
“If I can make a commitment like this with all my injuries to help the environment, then everybody could do something,” he said. “And if everybody did something, we could turn our problems around.”
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