17 June 2014

Prairie Conserved for Decades by Fricke Family

A family that settled along the valley of Big Papillion creek in the 1850s Nebraska territory, continues to protect a bit of the native prairie present when they arrived to their new home.

Settlers left the Missouri River valley and headed westward a few miles to a setting of high rolling prairies and several groves of good timber, according to the land survey done in June 1856. Along the Papillion creek, the land was "unsurpassed in fertility" so it was rapidly settling and already had "some quite well improved farms."

Frickes, immigrants from Prussia were soon also getting involved in farm agriculture. In 1857, William Fricke purchased more than 1000 acres in what became known as the Papillion community, in Sarpy county, Nebraska. The land already had a value of $40 per acre, according to the 1885 Atlas of Nebraska. Fred Fricke arrived in 1858, according to the chronicles.

A couple of years later, William Fricke added to his place through a "military exchange" with the widow of William N. Fitzgerald for 120 acres. A second transaction on October 1st, also transferred 120 acres to Francis Fricke from Joel Lewis, a private in Captain Shelton's Company, Virginia militia, war of 1812.

Andrew H. Fricke acquired 40 acres through a government claim in 1861.

The family was established in the area, and by 1889, William and Fred Fricke were prominent land-owners northeast of Papillion.

An area of particular interest associated with the natural legacy of the family is within section 24, township 14 north, range 12 east, according to the standard details associated with property within Nebraska. By 1920, the indicated owners were Francis H. Fricke and Henry J. Fricke.

The family continued to raise crops, cattle and kids through the subsequent decades. The Fricke Farm homestead was situated west of the creek valley, along 72nd Street. The house built by Frederick and Elizabeth Fricke is a "treasure" wonderfully denoted by a historic photograph.

Further generations of Fricke's continued upon their land in eastern Nebraska. Consider the ongoing agricultural efforts by Milton Sr. and Verna Fricke. Later, Milton Jr. was well recognized for distinctive farming efforts, with Charles and Leon also involved with the expansive farm.

During the early years of the 1980s, another interest that appreciated natural settings in the valley of Papillion Creek, visited and expressed their perspective associated with the relic lowland prairie of just a few acres. Through the years it has continually provided a fresh crop of native hay.

Their is a big bunch of history associated with the Fricke Farm, well explained in other sources, including a book on the families' history.

Teachers at Fricke Prairie in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Phil Swanson.

Prairie Appreciation

In the early 1980s, there were some unexpected birds at the prairie place on the Fricke land. This somehow got the attention of metro bird-watchers, and they came to the farm to see what was could be seen.

Phil Swanson, a resident in the vicinity of the Fricke farm, first visited in late 1981, and kept records of his bird observations. He'd noticed the creek on the east side of 72nd street, got permission from the owners, and visited a few times, along with binoculars and an interest in watching. Milton Fricke was also interested in what birds were about, so Swanson provided him details from visits at the farm, including the ponds and prairie eastward towards the creek. There were walnut trees in the front yard of the Fricke place, which also attracted different sorts of birds.

There were numerous subsequent visits, primarily from 1981 through 1989, according to records kept by Swanson. Birds were the primary interest but personal events were well remembered.

Among the birds, which would have also been seen by Milton Fricke while riding horseback to the prairie which was a pasture for cattle, were bobolinks, dickcissels and meadowlarks. When urban development was sparse, the prairie was burned to promote its growth. More recently it has been annually mowed for hay.

Birds at the Fricke Farm.

Photos courtesy of Phil Swanson.

Swanson remembers when Milton Fricke picked flowers from among the prairie grasses to present a colorful bouquet to his wife, Joann. On one occasion a feisty bull among the dairy cattle, started head-butting the volkswagon bus being driven by Swanson, requiring him to drive away from the scene. Milton later quipped that he would have hit the bull with a 2x4 to the head, Swanson said.

During the early 1980s, a spurt of interest occurred, with visits made to denote the bird fauna and native flora. Other metro birders also visited, perhaps due to the enthusiasm of Andy Saunders, the naturalist then associated with Fontenelle Forest, who was excited about the occurrence of bobolinks nearby.

On their first visit, birders Loren and Babs Padelford stopped at the farm house, then drove down through pastures and field to the prairie. He'd heard about the place from Saunders. They visited a few times in 1987 to 1993, enjoying the grassy setting, in addition to observing the birdlife.

"We have enjoyed visiting the prairie and are pleased that the family has kept it as a native prairie," said Jim Kovanda, who has visited the site along with his wife Sandy and others.

On the lowland, designated as a floodplain by government officials, the 15 acre prairie with its summer birds is still present, subtly changed but still representing the original prairie setting indicated in the 1850s.

"We will not alter the prairie as long as we own the property," said Charles and Marian Fricke, the current owners along with Milton Jr. and Joann Fricke. The family obviously continues to appreciate the 15 acres of living history among their hundreds of acres along Papillion Creek, most of which is agricultural cropland.

Area birders continue to occasionally enjoy the bird life of this bit of natural heritage.

To get a personal perspective a recent visit to the site occurred in early June, 2014. There was no great variety of birds. It was a special time spent tramping upon a prairie which has never been plowed. It was a heritage walk among plants that convey the original setting of this land. It is not very often when there is an opportunity to walk on land relatively unchanged for 150 years.

The bit of prairie has changed. Management regimes have made a difference. The local setting has had an influence on how the overall features of the adjacent landscape. In 2006 the farm homestead along 72nd Street was sold due to increasing urbanization and commercial development is now prevalent. A Sam's Club store is currently being built near where the farmstead had been, Swanson said. New housing tracts occur to the west and south.

Powerline corridor in the vicinity of Fricke Prairie. June, 2014.

Despite continual nearby changes, this bit of land, associated with decades of agricultural use is still appreciated and enjoyed in many subtle ways, including interest in its flora and fauna.

"It would be interesting to see what the insect diversity is in the prairie," said Loren Padelford.

The Fricke family was honored in 2008 at the "Reflection Ball" held to indicate their legacy associated with the Papillion community.

In 2014, the Fricke family was one of the first two honorees for Heritage Farm designation by the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation. This award recognizes 150 years of property ownership by the same family.

Fricke Farm - Yearly Tally of 170 Species
Common Name 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 2 Jun 2014
Snow Goose   0 *                          
Canada Goose             0                
Wood Duck   0               5          
Gadwall   0                          
American Wigeon   0                          
Mallard   0                         1
Blue-winged Teal   0                          
Northern Shoveler   0                          
Northern Pintail   0                          
Green-winged Teal   0                          
Canvasback   0                          
Ring-necked Duck   0                          
Lesser Scaup   0                          
Bufflehead   0                          
Common Goldeneye   0                          
Hooded Merganser   0                          
Common Merganser   0                          
Ruddy Duck   0                          
Ring-necked Pheasant 0                            
Northern Bobwhite   0               1 0 1      
Pied-billed Grebe   0                          
Horned Grebe   0                          
Double-crested Cormorant   0                          
American Bittern   0                          
Great Blue Heron   0               0 2 1      
Great Egret         0                    
Snowy Egret 0                            
Little Blue Heron         0                    
Cattle Egret             0                
Green Heron   0                          
Turkey Vulture   0                   1      
Osprey           0                  
Bald Eagle   0                          
Northern Harrier   0                          
Sharp-shinned Hawk         0                    
Broad-winged Hawk     0                        
Swainson's Hawk           0                  
Red-tailed Hawk 0                 1 1       1
Rough-legged Hawk   0                          
American Kestrel 0                 0          
Merlin                 0            
Sora   0                          
American Coot   0                          
Semipalmated Plover           0                  
Killdeer   0               1 1       2
Spotted Sandpiper     0                        
Solitary Sandpiper   0               1          
Greater Yellowlegs   0                          
Willet     0                        
Lesser Yellowlegs   0               0          
Upland Sandpiper     0                        
Hudsonian Godwit       0                      
Semipalmated Sandpiper           0       2          
Western Sandpiper           0                  
Least Sandpiper         0                    
White-rumped Sandpiper           0                  
Baird's Sandpiper           0                  
Pectoral Sandpiper           0       2          
Dunlin           0                  
Stilt Sandpiper             0                
Short-billed Dowitcher                 0            
Long-billed Dowitcher   0                          
Wilson's Snipe   0                          
Wilson's Phalarope           0                  
Franklin's Gull     0                        
Ring-billed Gull     0                        
Herring Gull     0                        
Least Tern           0                  
Black Tern               0              
Rock Pigeon 0                           40
Mourning Dove 0                           4
Yellow-billed Cuckoo   0                          
Black-billed Cuckoo 0                            
Great Horned Owl 0                            
Common Nighthawk   0                          
Chimney Swift   0                          
Belted Kingfisher 0                   1        
Red-headed Woodpecker   0         0       0        
Red-bellied Woodpecker   0                          
Downy Woodpecker 0                            
Hairy Woodpecker   0                          
Northern Flicker 0                   1        
Olive-sided Flycatcher         0                    
Eastern Wood-Pewee   0                          
Least Flycatcher   0                          
Eastern Phoebe       0                      
Western Kingbird   0         0 1              
Eastern Kingbird   0                          
Loggerhead Shrike   0               1 1        
Northern Shrike           0                  
Bell's Vireo   0                          
Blue-headed Vireo               0              
Warbling Vireo   0                          
Philadelphia Vireo 0                            
Red-eyed Vireo   0                          
Blue Jay 0                            
American Crow 0                            
Horned Lark 0                            
Purple Martin   0                          
Tree Swallow       0                      
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   0                          
Bank Swallow   0                          
Cliff Swallow           0   0   1          
Barn Swallow   0                         2
Black-capped Chickadee 0                            
House Wren   0                   0      
Sedge Wren   0         6 0   5   0      
Marsh Wren               1 0            
Golden-crowned Kinglet             0                
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     0                        
Eastern Bluebird               0              
Veery               0              
Swainson's Thrush           0                  
Hermit Thrush 0                            
American Robin   0               0         4
Gray Catbird   0                          
Brown Thrasher   0               0          
European Starling 0                           2
Cedar Waxwing           0                  
Tennessee Warbler   0                          
Orange-crowned Warbler   0                          
Nashville Warbler   0                          
Yellow Warbler   0                          
Yellow-rumped Warbler   0                          
Palm Warbler                 0            
Blackpoll Warbler   0                          
American Redstart         0                    
Northern Waterthrush               0              
Kentucky Warbler           0                  
Common Yellowthroat   0               0 1       1
Wilson's Warbler           0                  
Canada Warbler                 0            
Eastern Towhee         0                    
American Tree Sparrow 0                            
Chipping Sparrow   0                          
Clay-colored Sparrow     0                        
Field Sparrow   0                          
Vesper Sparrow   0                 2        
Lark Sparrow     0                        
Savannah Sparrow   0                          
Grasshopper Sparrow   0               1   1      
Le Conte's Sparrow   0                          
Fox Sparrow 0                            
Song Sparrow 0           0 0   1 2 1     1
Lincoln's Sparrow   0                          
Swamp Sparrow   0                          
White-throated Sparrow   0                          
Harris's Sparrow 0                            
White-crowned Sparrow   0                          
Dark-eyed Junco 0                            
Northern Cardinal 0                            
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   0                          
Blue Grosbeak                 0 1          
Indigo Bunting   0                          
Dickcissel   0               0 2 0   0 4
Bobolink   0                 2        
Red-winged Blackbird   0                       0 35
Eastern Meadowlark   0                         2
Western Meadowlark 0                            
Yellow-headed Blackbird     0                        
Rusty Blackbird   0                          
Common Grackle   0                         6
Brown-headed Cowbird   0                          
Orchard Oriole   0                          
Baltimore Oriole   0                   1      
Purple Finch   0                          
House Finch                         0    
Pine Siskin 0                            
American Goldfinch 0                 0         2
House Sparrow 0                            
* A zero (0) value indicates the occurrence of the species, but no record of numbers present was kept.


Flora of Fricke Prairie

Compiled by Dr. Paul Christiansen; list prepared in July 1982 by professor David M. Sutherland (University of Nebraska at Omaha) that included nomenclatural changes and any additions, based upon a visit along with Andy Saunders. Nonnative species are indicated by an asterisk (*).
Big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii
Little bluestem, Andropogon scoparius
Sideoats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula
Scribner panic grass, Dichanthelium oligosanthes var. scribnerianum
Acuminate panic grass, Dichanthelium acuminatum var. acuminatum
Canada wildrye, Elymus canadensis
Junegrass, Koeleria pyramidata
Porcupine grass, Stipa spartea
Squirrel-tail grass*, Hordeum jubatum
Smooth brome*, Bromus inermis
Kentucky bluegrass*, Poa pratensis
Sloughgrass, Spartina pectinata
Sedges, Carex brevior and others
Spikerush, Eleocharis species

Downy Phlox at Fricke Prairie in June, 2014.

Rosin weed, Silphium integrifolium
Compass plant, Silphium laciniatum
Goatsbeard*, Tragopogon dubius
Black-eyed susan, Rudbecia hirta
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis
Missouri goldenrod, Solidago missouriensis
Daisy fleabane, Erigeron strigosus
Floodman thistle, Cirsium floodmani
Musk thistle*, Carduus nutans
Dandelion*, Taraxacum officinale
Sow thistle*, Sonchus species (sp.)
Indian plantain, Cacalia tuberosa
Gayfeather, Liatris pycnostachya
Yellow coneflower, Ratibida pinnata
Big-toothed sunflower, Helianthus grosseserratus
Showy sunflower, Helianthus laetiflorus
Hawkweed, Hieracium longipilum
Groundsel, Senecio platensis
Purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia
Many-flower aster, Aster ericoides
Pussy-toes, Antennaria neglecta
Wormwood, Artemisia ludoviciana
Ox-eye, Heliopsis helianthoides
Red clover*, Trifolium pratense
Yellow sweetclover*, Melilotus officinalis
Black medic*, Medicago lupulina
Wild pea, Lathyrus palustris
Silver-leafed scurf pea, Psoralea argophylla
American vetch, Vicia americana
Purple prairie clover, Petalostemon purpureum
White prairie clover, Petalostemon candidum
Bush clover, Lespedeza capitata
Lead plant, Amorpha canescens
Other Families
Turk's cap lily, Lilium canadense subspecies michiganense

Turk's Cap Lily at Fricke Prairie, summer 1983.

Pictures courtesy of Dave Sutherland.

Canada anemone, Anemone canadensis
Meadow rue, Thalictrum dasycarpum
Prairie phlox, Phlox pilosa
Mustard*, Brassica sp.
Pepper-grass*, Lepidium densiflorum
Penny-cress*, Thlaspi arvense
Bindweed, Convolvulus sepium
Onion, Allium canadense

Golden Alexanders at Fricke Prairie in June 2014.

Golden alexanders, Zizia aurea
Spiderwort, Tradescantia bracteata
Dogbane, Apocynum sibiricum
Wild rose, Rosa arkansana
Wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
Tall cinquefoil, Potentilla arguta
Cinquefoil*, Potentilla norvegica
Sour dock*, Rumex crispus
Whorled milkweed, Asclepias verticillata
Blunt-leaved milkweed, Asclepias amplexicaulis
Butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Sullivant milkweed, Asclepias sullivantii
Horsetail, Equisetum laevigatum
Wild groundcherry, Phsalis virginiana
Flowering spurge, Euphorbia corollata
Bastard toadflax, Comandra umbellata
Birdsfood violet, Viola pedatifida
Water hemlock, Cicuta maculata
Common blue violet, Viola of papilionacea group
Skullcap, Scutellaria sp.
Pale-spike lobelia, Lobelia spicata
Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium campestre
Fringed loosestrife, Lysimachia ciliata
Gaura, Guara longiflora

Represents 82 species. Additional grass species expected to occur include Indian grass and switchgrass, according to Dr. Sutherland.