Barrels off the interstate
Broken barrels depicting human population through time poke out of the grass on the property which once housed the Prairie Peace Park in Seward County, Nebraska. Photo by Mark Champion
burntfoundation scaled - Prairie Peace Park now lies in pieces
The house which once welcomed visitors into Prairie Peace Park in Seward County, Nebraska, burnt down in the early morning of July 5, 2020. Photo by Mark Champion

Prairie Peace Park opened on June 11, 1994, to a welcoming crowd of more than 1,500 people. The park, which was planned by Nebraskan writer Don Tilley and sponsored by the World Peace Center in Lincoln, included an orientation center, walking paths, artwork and labyrinths. 

Ed Asner, the actor known for voicing Carl from “Up” and playing Santa Claus in “Elf,” even attended. According to History Nebraska, plans for the park indicated Tilley and other organizers anticipated around 60,000 visitors per year.

Today, however, visitors to the park are greeted by a burnt out house foundation. More adventurous sightseers can trek into the overgrown grass behind that to find barrels labeled with hypothetical world populations, and even further into the trees, a sculpture wall and spherical iron sculpture sit unappreciated by peace-loving art critics.

sculpturewall scaled - Prairie Peace Park now lies in pieces
A sculpture wall called “World Peace Mural” is one of the few remains of the Prairie Peace Park. The wall extends 80 feet through overgrown plants in Seward County, Nebraska. Photo by Mark Champion

Caryl Kermmoade has lived across the street from the property for 30 years and said she saw the park’s rise and fall firsthand. 

 

“The freshness died off,” she said. “Then it was just cars every now and then.”

She said the park evolved from its original vision to a gathering space for partiers from out of town.

“I know they rented the space out after some time for — ready for this? Rave parties. Tons of cars from Omaha all night long,” she said. “There were drums banging all night long.”

barrels scaled - Prairie Peace Park now lies in pieces
Broken barrels depicting human population through time poke out of the grass on the property which once housed the Prairie Peace Park in Seward County, Nebraska. Photo by Mark Champion

Kermmoade said it wasn’t long before the park was basically abandoned.

 

“That’s just not my idea of a prairie peace park I guess,” she said. 

According to History Nebraska, attendance in 2004 sat at a meager 600 visitors per year, and the park closed by August 2005. A transcendental meditation organization called Global Country World Peace bought the land with hopes to build a “peace palace.” The organization is based in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, which Oprah Winfrey declared to be “America’s Most Unusual Town.” Incorporated in 2001, the city earned that nickname due to its meditative ideals, Eastern cultural influence and architecture aimed at creating what its website declares as a “model of ideal city life.”

globe scaled - Prairie Peace Park now lies in pieces
“Dance of the Children” is one of two remaining sculptures on the property. Photo by Mark Champion

However, the peace palace plans never came to fruition. According to Maharishi Vedic City Clerk Kathy Petersen, the land was sold to Lincoln’s Pleasant Dale Properties in 2010.

After the Prairie Peace Park’s only visitors became the feral cats she fed, Kermmoade said she thought truckers would use the space to park their trucks for days to weeks. The only other prospective use of the land she knew about was a man who was looking to purchase the property to open a “juice bar for girly dancing,” according to Kermmoade.

Shane Harrington is the owner of Club Omaha, which touts itself as Omaha’s only fully nude strip club. In 2015, he was looking along I-80 for property to open an all-nude juice bar. According to a Channel 8 KLKN-TV report, the bars would have been located outside of Grand Island and off the Pleasant Dale interstate exit, which hides the remains of the Prairie Peace Park. Due to zoning issues and pushback from the community, the plan was scrapped.

“It’s a great country where you’re free to have a small business. I just really don’t want that kind of business right across the street from my house,” Kermmoade said.

The Seward County Assessor’s website lists Mark Masek as the property’s current owner. Masek could not be reached for comment via call or email.

According to Seward County records, the main house on the property burnt down in the early morning on July 5, 2020. Kermmoade said she watched the house, which was covered in graffiti and trash, burn down after she had seen people lighting fireworks. The records didn’t indicate a cause, and Kermmoade said the firefighters weren’t able to save the house.

handprints scaled - Prairie Peace Park now lies in pieces
White handprints coat the ash-covered foundation of the Prairie Peace Park house, which burnt down July 5, 2020. Photo by Mark Champion

 

“I think they pretty much just contained it as much as they could to that area, but let that sucker fall,” Kermmoade said.