Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie: Where Aviation Took Wing.
JOHN MUIR WROTE "WHEN WE TRY TO PICK OUT anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." David Nolin's book about Huffman Prairie is an excellent example of this concept. Nolin clearly shows the connections--in both directions--between the natural environment and the rich history of this special place.
Huffman Prairie today is a 114-acre fragment of its original area within the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a short distance east of Dayton, Ohio. In 1986 the natural portion of the Huffman Prairie was designated as an Ohio Natural Landmark Area and in 1990, Huffman Prairie Flying Field was designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is a component of the National Aviation Heritage Area.
The book weaves together several themes: an excellent history of the land even before the Wright brothers got involved, the brothers' work on developing and improving airplane design, and the eventual development of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (which encompasses the Huffman Prairie). Furthermore, it documents the native prairie, its flora, fauna, and overall ecology. Finally, it details the re-discovery of the prairie as well as work to restore and make it accessible to the public. Both the history and natural history are richly illustrated with historic black-and-white photos, as well as beautiful color photos of the prairie flora and fauna.
Nolin retired in 2015 after 32 years working with the Five Rivers Metro Parks in land acquisition and habitat management, ending his career as director of conservation. Certainly, his professional background enabled and enriched his work on Huffman Prairie.
His book reveals his zeal for preserving and restoring Huffman Prairie and one suspects he spent many hours of personal time on prairie restoration and writing this book.
Nolin obviously read extensively about the history of the Wright brothers and searched out extensive archives on the early history of the area. He details the first explorations of the region and the settlements of the site by William P. Huffman and his descendants, who owned the land when the Wright brothers flew their first plane. He also details later developments from ditching, building railways and roadways, and the site's establishment as an air force base. He introduces and enriches all this history with a wealth of historic photos. Nolin also documents the impact of glaciers over Ohio and the changes that followed, especially the Xerothermic Period when the "Prairie Peninsula" expanded into west-central Ohio. In 1984, Nolin stumbled across Huffman Prairie. He not only studied and enjoyed the site, but he initiated and worked with many other individuals to get the prairie restored and preserved. The story of the prairie restoration, preservation, and opening of the area to the public is by itself a wonderful and inspiring tale.
Equally valuable to the basic chapters of this book are Nolin's multiple appendices and notes. Among these are a description of the current Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, fourteen pages of an annotated list of the flora of Huffman Prairie, eight pages of references, and an excellent index.
Anyone interested in the history of flight should enjoy this book on Ohio's role in those developments. Anyone interested in the natural history of prairies and restoration efforts will equally enjoy this book. I found both stories fascinating and well researched.
Robert C. Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History, Ohio History Connection.