PITTSBURG, Kan. — Pittsburg State University has been given two small patches of native prairie land known as the O'Malley Prairies.

The university has managed the prairies, just northeast of Cherokee, for a number of years, and this week received them as a gift from the descendants of Mary Elizabeth O’Malley and her brother, Charles David O’Malley.

Charles David O’Malley and former biology department Chairman Jim Triplett made an informal agreement in 1991 that allowed PSU to manage the two tracts of land, located at South 170th Street and East 510th Avenue. Pittsburg State biology students have since used the land as an outdoor research lab.

Dixie Smith, current chairwoman of the PSU biology department, said the title transfer for the O’Malley Prairies won’t change that. Students will continue to do research at the prairie and compare it with the adjacent Monahan Outdoor Education Center, a 153-acre site that contains an 80-acre grassland sitting atop a pile of coal-mining refuse, she said.

“Because the O’Malley and Monahan properties are adjacent to each other, it is perfect for students to compare and contrast native, undisturbed prairie with partially reclaimed land that has been mined,” she said in a statement. “It’s really dramatic when students compare core samples of the soil in the O’Malley prairie and the Monahan site. They can see clearly the differences between the undisturbed grassland and the partially reclaimed mined land.”

The O'Malley Prairies, totaling about 12 acres, are remnants of the vast prairie ecosystem that once covered large swaths of the Midwest. In nearby Missouri, for example, less than 1 percent of the native tallgrass prairie environment remains after once covering more than one-third of the state, according to Prairie State Park. As Kansas and the Great Plains became more agrarian, the native prairies began to disappear.

At a ceremony Thursday marking the transfer of title to the PSU Foundation, PSU President Steve Scott said the gift of the prairies began with conversations between faculty and members of the community. He also said in a statement that it was an example of the “amazing support we get from our community.”

Another prairie

Missouri Southern State University in Joplin also has a prairie under its oversight. About 14 acres of a 27-acre patch of native prairie at the northeast corner of Newman and Duquesne roads were set aside for preservation by the university's governing board in February 2015.