By Tulwen Adams ’22
In the spring of 2020, the Austin College Sneed Prairie project received the Texas Environmental Excellence Award (TEEA) for the provision of outstanding education to K-12th grade students in Grayson County, Texas. Recipients of the TEEA are recognized as leading environmental programs with the potential to inspire like-minded organizations and individuals to implement initiatives within their own communities.
The 2019 recipient of the TEEA is EcoRise, a non-profit organization which has served over 68,000 students by providing access to materials, training, and grants to fund environmental education and initiatives in Texas schools. With the precedent set by the exceptional work of EcoRise, it is an honor for the Austin College Sneed Prairie Project to be similarly awarded, as well as a credit to the hard work, dedication, and generosity of the benefactors, faculty, and students of the Austin College community.
The Sneed Prairie was donated to Austin College in 1984 by Clinton and Edith Sneed. The property is comprised of one hundred acres divided into nine experimental fields and one remnant of intact prairie. With the inception of the Sneed Prairie restoration project in 1996, treatments of fire, cattle, and mowing were implemented on the nine experimental fields with an end goal of evaluating their effectiveness while restoring the site to native tallgrass prairie.
As well as providing an opportunity for research and restoration, the Sneed Prairie also serves Austin College and the larger Grayson County school system as an invaluable educational resource. Austin College students in the biology, physics, and environmental studies departments have the opportunity to study the Sneed Prairie during laboratory classes, or as upperclassmen participating in independent studies. Every two years, students of all departments have the option of taking a January Term class focused on the controlled burning of select fields at Sneed.
The field trips conducted at the Sneed Prairie are designed to provide environmental education on the history, ecological function, and importance of restoration projects to students from elementary, middle, and high schools in Grayson County. Austin College undergraduates lead the trips, engaging students in activities designed to model water uptake or native grass seed dispersal on the prairie. The prehistorical legacy of the prairie is still apparent in the 21st century ecosystem, which is also highlighted to students.
The Texas landscape which today is comprised of agricultural fields, with a few prairies similar to Sneed scattered in between, was an inland sea during the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, evident today by the fossils still found along riverbeds. Alongside the prehistory of the prairie, K-12th grade students have the opportunity to explore more recent history of the prairie by learning about how the bison, wolves, and wildfires maintained the prairie as a grassland with few trees. As of fall 2019, the Sneed Prairie project has provided education to more than 11,000 schoolchildren during these field trips.
Highlights from the 2021 Prairie Restoration JanTerm course at Sneed
(Photos by Syed Kamal)