Twenty years ago, Jarid Manos picked up the book that changed his life. Where the Buffalo Roam chronicled two Rutgers University geographers, Frank and Deborah Popper, who proposed restoring a vast swath of American prairie, where buffalo could roam once again. “It sort of opened my mind,” Manos says. “It represented an idea that something that was so painful to accept could actually be healed.” And it sparked Manos’s own transformation.
A onetime drug dealer, he gave up his illicit career, became a physical therapist, and, in 1999, founded the Great Plains Restoration Council to advocate for restoration of the plains ecosystem, setting up operations on the east side of Fort Worth, Texas. Today, the GPRC’s main office is in Houston, where Manos recruits at-risk youth and adults to work on prairie projects such as the Esteban Park restoration in South Acres, where his crews removed invasive Chinese tallow, poison ivy, and thornbushes, built hiking trails and re-created wetlands, and started an organic community garden that they hope to grow into a full-tilt farm. The city projects are precursors to a 20,000-acre saltwater prairie restoration in the Trinity River estuary through the GPRC’s Restoration Not Incarceration program, employing criminal offenders for nature-based work therapy.
“So much of Texas was where the prairie met the sea,” Manos says. But prairies aren’t the easiest sell, so he continually points out the role they play in ecological health. “[The prairie] is the original Garden of Eden, where everything was lush and abundant,” he says. “To me, it’s that place where God and earth meet. Yet there’s so little left that America averts its eyes from prairies and treats them like something that’s dried up and in the corner.” And while less than 1 percent of the prairie around Houston remains, Manos says bringing it back is doable, especially when people in need of a good shot of Mother Earth get their boots on the ground.