OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, geographic center of the 1930s Dust Bowl, are hoping a recent documentary about what many call the nation’s worst man-made disaster could spark tourism in the region.
PBS’ two-part television series, “The Dust Bowl,” concluded Monday night. The film by Ken Burns featured interviews with several Panhandle residents who lived through a decade’s worth of drought and wind storms.
Jada Breeden, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Guymon, a town in the center of the Oklahoma Panhandle, said she has been fielding more calls from tourists and others seeking information about the area since the documentary began airing. A native of the region, she acknowledged that even she learned a few things from the series.
“The wind is who we are,” said Breeden, whose grandparents lived through the Dust Bowl. “We’ve had a lot of interest. And I’m sure it’s going to pick up.”
The No Man’s Land Museum in nearby Goodwell has experienced jumps in visitors when other movies and documentaries have focused on the period, noted museum director Sue Weissinger.
The Oklahoma Panhandle was once called No Man’s Land after treaties and federal declarations left no one in charge, though the term seemed appropriate due to the harsh climate, with 20 inches or less of rainfall in the typical year. After the area was opened up to settlement, farmers tilled up native grasses and planted wheat, disrupting the ecosystem.
The Dust Bowl was blamed on poor farming practices and a severe drought that let the Plains’ high winds scrape up dirt and carry it, at times, thousands of miles away. Conservation efforts, tiered farming and better weather helped the area recover.
A drought has gripped part of the area for the past year, though not on the same scale as the 1930s. And unlike the Dust Bowl years, new farming technologies and conservation methods are helping to prevent the same kind of erosion during the ongoing drought.
“Our land isn’t blowing away,” Breeden said.
Across the border at the XIT Museum in Dalhart, a town in the far northwest corner of the Texas Panhandle, about 4,000 people visit each year and many are interested in the Dust Bowl, said museum director Nick Olson. The museum showcases artifacts from the XIT Ranch, a cattle ranch spanning more than 3 million acres in the Texas Panhandle that operated from 1885 to 1912.
“They look at our photographs of the black clouds coming across or the sand dunes and they can’t believe that could happen,” Olson said, adding he hopes the documentary brings people.