The Prairie Peace Park opened in 1994. Interstate 80 travelers often dropped in to view the unique, peace-oriented artwork and exhibits. Annual visitation averaged about 600. Faced with financial problems, the Prairie Peace Park Board sold the park in 2005 to a transcendental meditation group based in Fairfield, Iowa.

PLEASANT DALE -- The Prairie Peace Park has fallen on hard times.

Old tires and shattered glass and an empty Jim Beam bottle litter the entrance.

Weeds grow in the cracks of the parking lot, which is scattered with asphalt shingles and debris from an abandoned house nearby.

There are no welcome banners to greet visitors -- only a big "for sale" sign and a colorful mural on the side of the house, featuring flowers, sun, people, music symbols and a globe supported by hands.

It wasn't always this way.

The Prairie Peace Park once was a place where the seeds of peace were sown by a group of visionaries who wanted a venue where people could meditate about ways to change a violent world.

The park opened June 11, 1994. More than 1,500 people attended, including actor Ed Asner, children's singer Raffi and the late U.S. Sen. J.J. Exon.

Sixteen years later, the park is about to be sold, its mission of fostering world peace lost in 27 acres of weeds and trees and neglected sculptures and exhibits.

Marc Snow with NAI FMA Realty in Lincoln has been working with a buyer interested in the land and has a contract under review.

Don Tilley, president of the Prairie Peace Park Board, was not surprised by the news.

"We were expecting it to happen," he said.

Tilley, one of the park's founders, had high hopes its peace mission would live on after the board sold it in 2005 to Global Country World Peace, based in Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa.

The group, affiliated with Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, planned to build a 12,000-square-foot "peace palace" on site to teach transcendental meditation and host public lectures.

"We always had some hope," Tilley said. "When they tried to sell the property, we kind of guessed it (the peace palace) wasn't going to happen."

Tilley called it a real loss when the park board sold the property in 2005. Finding out it was going to be sold again is a "double loss."

Eric Michener, who came to Lincoln to help build a peace palace, said the project died from a lack of funds.

Global Country World Peace had planned to build 300 peace palaces across the nation, but only a few have been built so far, he said, in Fairfield, Minneapolis and Smith Center, Kan.

The decision to sell the property was made about two years ago, said Michener, who now works for Fortune Creating Buildings, developed by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, also known as The Beatles' former meditation guru.

Interest in the commercially zoned Prairie Peace Park, across the road from an abandoned gas station and campground, has not been strong. At one point, the property was listed at $180,000. More recently it listed for $95,000.

Tilley and Michener pointed out that anyone who buys the land has to abide by an important covenant -- maintaining two unique pieces of artwork: "The World Peace Mural," created from clay by 34 international artists; and "The Dance of the Children," a globe-shaped metal sculpture pegged with children holding hands and several peace doves.

"They can't be taken down," Tilley said.

Michener said the impending sale likely means the demise of the Prairie Peace Park.

"Very possibly. It's hard to say for sure. From our side, the organization said if we don't have the money, it might be wise to sell the property ... and use it for other purposes," Michener said.

Tilley agreed. He said the death of Maharishi in 2008 may have been a factor in dwindling support for the peace palaces.

Although Prairie Peace Park may soon be gone, the vision of its creators and their peace mission still will live on.

The Prairie Peace Park Board has a website at www.peacepark.us. It also sponsors exhibits and other special events focusing on peace-related issues.

Future plans include a conference on immigration early next year.

"We still live as a board, but we don't own the park land," Tilley said.

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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