Section 7: A History of Warrick Prairies

Jamie Bachmann, Wildlife Education, Northern Prairies Land Trust
With permission from: Robert Warrick, Landowner

Robert Warrick is a conservation minded landowner who has lived most of his life in Meadow Grove, Nebraska.  In 2008, with the help of the Northern Prairies Land Trust, Warrick and Sons Inc. placed a conservation easement on what he calls ‘Section 7’.  Section 7 is a piece of land in Pierce County, Nebraska that Robert first began to know over seventy years ago.  Below, Robert passed on to me a little history of that land now known as Warrick Prairies.

My first remembrance and contact with what I will call ‘Section 7’ was when I was in grade school in Meadow Grove, (about 10 south of Section 7) in the 1940’s.  Section 7 was part of a large area that was taken over by the United States War Department in the 1940’s during World War 2 and was called ‘Pierce Air to Ground Gunnery Range’. It was a couple thousand acres and Section 7 was the center of constant air bombing and fighter plane strafing.  As a young boy in grade school, my parents would take my brother and sister to a hill overlooking the area and we would watch as P47 and B24 bombers would come in at tree top level and practice blasting the poor sand dunes.  Between sorties, we would run out into the range and pick up spent 50 caliber casings and many times, live ammunition.  Dangerous?  Probably, but it was really exciting.  For many years I had an official sign that I had “borrowed” from the range. It read in large red lettering:  ‘Air Ground Gunnery Range KEEP OUT’. It was placed, appropriately, above my toilet stool.

Bob Warrick at prairie
Landowner Robert Warrick points out gunnery damage still seen today.

Section 7 actually had a target, made on the land, by the Army.  It was many hundreds of feet in diameter, which can still be seen when the light is right.  I remember in the 40’s a large U.S. Army convoy came through Meadow Grove on the way to build a replica of a town on section 7 so that fighter pilots and bombers could practice shooting and bombing.  When I first started grazing cattle on Section 7 I made it a practice to pick parts of bombs that were partially buried or broken.  Many times they would fill the box of the pickup.  I have received notices recently, “As part of the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, munitions may still be present on Section 7. These munitions may pose an explosive hazard to you, your family other property users, or the public.  The Army recommends you share the enclose information with those who use your property, including those who lease or rent your property”.  THAT I HAVE DONE!

For many years after the closing of the Gunnery Range, farmers in the area would be tormented by ammunition clips of the 50 caliber machine guns from the planes.  They would be picked up by their cultivator on the shovels, while cultivating corn.

The Warrick & Sons Inc. placed the conservation easement on Section 7-25-3 in Pierce County, NE through the Northern Prairies Land Trust on 04/28/2008.  . Warrick & Sons have owned this Pierce section since 1988.  Robert Warrick (the author) is President of Warrick & Sons Inc. My wife Gudrun, my brother Jack and his wife Jean are the only stockholders in the corporation.  It is a family corporation, registered with the State of Nebraska. 

Easement Boundry line
Conservation Easement Boundary of Section 7.

My Great Grandfather Theodore A. Shafer, homesteaded in Madison County in 1879.  Warrick & Son’s received the Pioneer Farm Award in May, 1979. That land is still owned by my wife and myself. My grandfather J. W. Warrick came west in the 1870’s, He started a rural business in Meadow Grove, prospered, bought the land that I farmed.  My great grandfather Shafer retired to California on a small pension he received from the federal government from wounds he received in the civil war.”

A landowner I know in Dodge County, Nebraska who has spent his life farming and caring for his land was just recently interviewed about proposed cuts to the Farm Bill Conservation Stewardship Program.  The last line he repeated, and it has found a place in most of my days since.  He said, “The land remembers. The land remembers.”

Those of us who have been out to Section 7 with Robert Warrick have seen his work on restoring this piece of land. The scars left behind are easily recognizable.  The land remembers.  Perhaps anyone who spends a lifetime knowing a piece of land understands this secret. Robert Warrick knows the sentiment, “Blowouts can still be seen caused by this military training.  It is all now in private ownership and is healing, but it takes care and time to heal man’s follies and ventures.”

Thank you Robert for sharing this piece of history.  Your passion, dedication and love of the prairie inspires all who you give your time to. Thank you.

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