More than a century ago, ambitious Nebraskans convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to designate two tracts of land in the state as national forest. He agreed, even though most of the land in question consisted of sand and grass, not trees.

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One hundred and fifty years ago, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 men, women, and children carted their wagons across a landscape very different than the one we see today—wide, lush prairie rolled as far as they could see. Today, the original “viewsheds” of these trails are largely gone.

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We all live in a watershed, a region defined by water. This unifies us more than we may realize. This audio essay series looks closely at how water shapes our landscapes and lives on the Great Plains through the voices of people who live here.

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