Discover MHK with Dené, Episode 1: “In Perpetuity”

Groundbreaking events usually involve public officials in hard hats and ceremonial shoveling at the development site. Prairiewood’s recent non-groundbreaking ceremony was quite unlike that, as the goal is to not develop the 186 acres of land just set aside in a conservation easement for preservation in perpetuity. In Episode 1 of Discover MHK with Dené, follow the story of how Prairiewood Retreat and Preserve owners Kail and Becky Katzenmeier partnered with the Kansas Land Trust to save a tract of tallgrass prairie. Listen to how they celebrated the non-groundbreaking, all with music and spoken word in the outdoors.

Discover MHK with Dené is a weekly radio segment on Wildcat 91.9 in which host Dené Dryden shares stories from the Manhattan, Kansas area featuring local events, organizations, entrepreneurs, and cultures specific to the Flint Hills region. New episodes air on Fridays during the noon hour on 91.9 FM.

Questions? Comments? Contact the host at

Listen to the first episode here:

(Sounds of a string orchestra building into the final climax of a song.)

Dené Dryden: A celebration for preserving part of the Flint Hills just outside of Manhattan. This is Discover MHK with Dené.

(Audience claps as the orchestra finishes.)

Dryden: The sounds of songbirds and gentle breezes across the Flint Hills prairie were accompanied by music, poetry, and chatter as visitors set foot in newly conserved prairieland out at Prairiewood Retreat and Preserve. In partnership with the Kansas Land Trust, Prairiewood is setting side 186 acres of tallgrass prairie for preservation in perpetuity. The festivities at the non-groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday, July 7 started off with a trail hike through the newly conserved Willis Prairie led by Courtney Masterson.

Courtney Masterson: I told you guys, mint, cattle don’t like mint. No animals like mint but us, ‘cause we’re weird. But pollinators love this, lot of swallowtails, monarchs will sip on this, bees. You guys know this plant? Anybody who’s been to Konza knows this, I’m sure. It doesn’t have its purple blooms right now.

Guest: Lead plant.

Masterson: Lead plant!

Dryden: Later in the evening, the non-groundbreaking ceremony was held, where Prairiewood owners Kail and Becky Katzenmeier spoke about the conservation easement and the Willis Prairie’s namesake, Jean and Bill Willis.

Kail Katzenmeier: So Bill lived in a little house down the road, right when you come across the bridge and you turn and make the curve and you see a little apple orchard out there. And Bill — some of you may know him and remember him — he worked at K-State at the Extension office, and Bill would be out there pruning his apples and tending to his hand-built fence and whatever else he had dreamed up that day to be doing. And I was sort of mesmerized by all that. He was captivating. And he had four things, the four characteristics that I think embody what we’re striving for here today that just happen to be part of the past of getting to know Bill. Bill believed in welcome, Bill believed in wonder, Bill embodied curiosity, and Bill was full of imagination.

Dryden: The outdoor ceremony also included music from the Manhattan High School Chamber orchestra, a reading from poet Megan Kaminski, and a blessing from Bishop Kathleen Bascom.

Bishop Bascom: “Consider the lilies, how they grow, even Solomon in all his glory was not arraigned by one of these. Consider the ravens.” [Luke 12:27] Jesus attended to the natural world some of his deepest wisdom comes from all that he considered.

Megan Kaminski: “Witness. What love are you? A fissure tonguing hillside, deepening dirt into limestone, answering mother fictile in unquiet repose.”

Kelly Fraiser: So this, the reason that we’re here today to celebrate the conservation easement, that process has been in the works for about five years now. So that was always part of their vision for this place, and now it’s kind of come to fruition. It’s a really exciting thing.

Dryden: That’s Kelly Fraiser, director of the public programming series at Prairiewood.

Fraiser: A hundred and eighty-six acres of prairie behind us here has been preserved in perpetuity, so it can’t be developed.

Dryden: The tallgrass prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Executive director of the Kansas Land Trust Jerry Jost explains a little bit more about how the conservation easement works.

Jerry Jost: It is a partnership of Fort Riley, which is on the horizon. They were absolutely key because they provided the money, the resources for all of this to happen. The other key partner is Prairiewood Retreat and Preserve, and I’ll introduce Kail and Becky Katzenmeier because they’re the land owners. They own the land, they manage the land. The Kansas Land Trust holds the development rights.

Dryden: During the program, Becky Katzenmeier reflected on her experiences out in the Kansas tallgrass prairie and what led her and her husband Kail to preserve part of the prairie as their property.

Becky Katzenmeier: Over the years, countless conversations on the prairie. Good ones. Hard ones. Healing ones. And my favorite is to be alone in the prairie; it’s sacred, it is transformative. But really it is the experience of the prairie, which is what makes me so glad that we’re doing what we’re doing.

Dryden: Generations to come will be able to enjoy the tallgrass prairie set aside from development by the Kansas Land Trust, Prairiewood Retreat and Preserve, and Fort Riley’s Army Compatible Use Buffer Program. As the evening closed out and the sun began to set, people remained for drinks, time around the campfire, and songs from local musicians. This has been Discover MHK with Dené Dryden.

(A trio of people sings and plays string instruments while a campfire crackles. As the song ends, the audience gives the performers applause.)

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