Last year, after learning that the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve was about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, University alumnus Dave Kendall started work on a film titled, “Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: A Flint Hills Love Story."

Now complete, the film explores the history of the preserve in eastern Kansas that Kendall himself has shown love for.

Kendall graduated with an undergraduate degree in cultural geography in 1975 and received master's degrees in journalism and anthropology in 1983. He is producing “A Flint Hills Love Story” with his wife, Laura Mead, through their company Prairie Hollow Productions. 

Tallgrass prairie ecosystems are home to 500 species of plants, 150 species of birds, 39 species of reptiles and amphibians and 31 species of mammals, including bison. The prairie used to cover 170 million acres of North America, but about four percent remains, much of it found in the Flint Hills.

The preserve was a project decades in the making.

According to Kendall, a group called Save the Tallgrass Prairie formed in the 1970s to preserve the ecosystem and promote public access to remaining pockets. Resistance from farmers and ranchers in the region effectively squelched the movement for a few decades until Audubon of Kansas, a grassroots conservation organization, managed to purchase some of the land. The land eventually became part of the national preserve.

Kendall said the documentary’s subtext indicates that uncertainty over what’s best for the Flint Hills.

The documentary features interviews from a variety of sources, ranging from artists to scientists to a former United States Senator — all of whom have a connection to the preserve, even though they might not agree on what should be done to protect it.

“We call it ‘A Flint Hills Love Story’ because a lot of people have a special affinity for the Flint Hills, and they want to see them protected, but they have different ideas about what’s best and how to go about that,” Kendall said.

Lawrence artist Lisa Grossman was an artist-in-residence at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve when Kendall was filming the documentary and appears as an interview subject. Grossman, a plein air oil painter, said she spent her residence visiting various parts of the 11,000-acre reserve with her paint and canvas in tow.

“This area has always kind of been underappreciated, especially now people just want to get through it usually driving somewhere else or flying over, Grossman said. “But it really takes a little bit of time for most people to slow down and get out of the car and appreciate it.”

"A Flint Hills Love Story" will be available on public television. It will also be shown in Emporia on Nov. 12 and Manhattan on Nov. 20.