Contact: Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
(214) 768-7650
April 30, 2002


Note to editors: The SMU students will have a booth at PrairieFest being held May 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bath House Cultural Center on White Rock Lake.

Click on the photos below to view or download high-resolution .jpg versions.


DALLAS (SMU) -- To casual passers-by, the large area of vacant land north of White Rock Lake near the intersection of Mockingbird Lane and Buckner Boulevard looks like any other piece of abandoned property. Construction debris and old appliances have been dumped on the site and four-wheel drive vehicles have broken down vegetation, left tracks and caused erosion.

But John Goodge sees much more.

Goodge, an SMU geology professor who lives near the area, knows that this land is a hidden treasure -- one of the few remaining portions of Texas blackland prairie that marked the transitional zone between the humid eastern forests and the arid west. The prairie’s rich, dark soil provides a home for hundreds of different grasses, plants and flowers.

At one time there were 12 million acres of blackland prairie across the Southwest from San Antonio to Kansas. Today, fewer than 5,000 undeveloped or uncultivated acres remain. Goodge is trying to make sure that this 50 acres east of Dallas is preserved.

He has enlisted the help of students taking his “Global Perspectives on Environmental Issues” class this semester. Goodge is using the prairie to teach students broader environmental issues such as land use and to show them how to “think globally, but act locally.”

The class has attracted students from all disciplines, including business, arts, engineering and communications. Students are using the varied skills they have to work on different projects aimed at helping restore the prairie to its original condition and educating the public about the unique resource in their own backyard. The City of Dallas, which owns the property but does not have the funds to adequately protect it, is supporting the student project.

“The city is very conscious of protecting areas like this,” said Charles Boseman, who supervises the park for the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department. “Partnerships like this are a true benefit.” The class also is getting support from the North Texas Chapter of the state’s Master Naturalist program.

One student group with an interest in technology is digitally mapping the different features of the prairie. Another group took soil samples from different areas and sent them to the Texas A&M University Extension Program to be tested. They are analyzing these results to see if there are any portions of the prairie that might benefit from soil restoration. Another group has studied the causes of soil erosion on the prairie and taken the first steps to help reduce it.

Some students with a background in anthropology have put together a brochure on the history of the prairie and its surrounding area.

“If you know the history of a place, you tend to hold it in higher regard,” said Erin Lee Damron, a senior who is majoring in theatre.

The east side of White Rock Lake where the prairie is located was believed to have been settled by native Americans as early as 8000 B.C. Early accounts of the land report dense herds of buffalo roaming the area. Nearby White Rock Creek, which offered the native tribes access to water and forest, was dammed to form a lake in 1911.

Another group is trying to raise community awareness of the site by building a sign that provides information about the prairie, creating a brochure about it and building a web site.

“We want people to understand that this is more than just grass,” said Morgan Harrison, a junior who is majoring in communications.

The class will turn all the work they have produced over to the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department at the end of the semester.

Goodge said he has been very pleased with the results of the student projects.

“It’s been really wonderful to see how the students have developed their own ideas about what kinds of projects to do,” he said. “Most did not come into this with backgrounds in science and ecology, but they have a strong interest in trying to make a difference. And that is what we are trying to teach -- that individuals really can make a difference.”

For more photographs, click here.