WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - The 88th Civil Engineer Group’s Environmental Branch conducted its annual Summer Prairie Walk recently to create awareness about the resources and history found on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The event took about 30 participants through Huffman Prairie and Huffman Prairie Flying Field, showcasing the area’s abundant nature and wildlife, as well as the airfield where Orville and Wilbur Wright learned how to fly. The free, hourlong guided tour took place July 19.
“A lot of people do not realize there is a national park site on base, or that there is a beautiful, native tallgrass prairie, which is the largest prairie in Ohio with 112 acres,” said Danielle Trevino, a biological scientist with the 88 CEG Environmental Branch.
Over 1,000 years ago, the ancient Native Americans saved this valuable prairie by burning it each year, which enabled new life to thrive.
David Nolin, retired director of Five Rivers MetroParks, an outdoor recreation and education facility system serving the Dayton metro area, led the Summer Prairie Walk. He had a phrase that related to this burning.
“Fire in magic,” he said. “Each year, 25 percent of the prairie is burned to eliminate woody material and invasive species. This managed burn also allows endangered species to move from the area that is being burned.”
The 13-lined ground squirrel is among the endangered species that endured by the work of conservationists, he added.
John W. Van Cleve, a botanist, three-term mayor of Dayton and founder of Woodland Cemetery, reintroduced wildflowers in the 1830s such as the royal catchfly, Spanish-version pink royal catchfly, purple cone, grey-headed cone, mountain mint, three types of black-eyed Susan, field thistle, pink blazing star, wild sweet potato, stiff goldenrod, butterfly milkweed and wild bergamot.
“White-tailed deer, striped skunk, coyote, red fox, groundhog, meadow vole, deer mouse, eastern mole and eastern cottontail have been seen on Huffman Prairie in recent years,” Nolin wrote in his book, “Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie: Where Aviation Took Wing.”
Huffman Prairie, a state natural landmark established in 1985, is exploding with native blooms. Not only does it attract various pollinators such as hummingbirds, moths, bees and butterflies (there are more than 200 species of butterflies and moths), but observers have reported spotting 179 species of birds in Huffman’s vicinity since 2017.
“This prairie is a unique resource, and we hope people come out and enjoy the two walking paths, experience the beauty and diversity of the prairie,” Trevino said.
Adjacent to Huffman Prairie is Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright brothers experimented with their flying machine.
Robert Peterson, a park ranger for the Interior Department, said Huffman and the flying field are shared in a partnership with the Air Force, Five Rivers MetroParks and National Park Service.
“This is where people learned to fly,” Peterson said. “In 1904, the Wright brothers started perfecting their flying machine after their 12-second flight that flew 120 feet.”
The Wright brothers were loaned an 84-acre pasture owned by Torrence Huffman, a Dayton banker, to refine their machine and design a 240-foot rail with a 1,600-pound weight for catapulted-takeoff speed.
On Sept. 15, 1904, the Wright brothers made their first turn with the Wright Flyer and then completed their first circle in the air five days later. At that point, they could fly 45 minutes and 24 miles, creating the world’s first practical powered aircraft.
Visitors can learn about the Wright Brothers’ Flying Field and their perfected flight from the National Park Service, then take a stroll through Huffman Prairie.
For more information, contact Danielle Trevino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-257-8555; Robert Peterson at email@example.com or 937-225-7705; or David Nolin at firstname.lastname@example.org.