Celebrate native grasslands with tours and exhibits at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie
Early autumn adds new color to Missouri’s tallgrass prairie remnants and restorations. The goldenrod and ashy sunflowers bloom, letting yellow flowers wave over green grassland. Native warm season grasses stand tall, waiting to turn golden red as winter approaches. Visitors can enjoy guided tours and exhibits at a premier grassland when the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) hosts a free Prairie Day 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie near El Dorado Springs.
Prairie Day will offer wagon tours of native prairie remnants and restored grasses and wildflowers. Experts will be on hand to explain how tallgrass prairie’s plants, streams, insects and wildlife are interwoven in a complex ecology.
The Nature Conservancy of Missouri is co-host for the event. Much of the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area is owned by the Conservancy but managed by MDC in a partnership. The St. Clair County Cattlemen’s Association will provide food concessions. Representatives of the Osage Nation will discuss the tribe’s historic ties to the Upper Osage Grasslands.
Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie is central in a region dominated by the Osage Nation before Europeans began settling North America. The Osage people lived in a richly productive land. Open prairies bordered large rivers like the Osage, Sac and Marmaton. Creeks with clear, clean water drained the uplands and fed streams and wetlands. Scattered trees mixed with prairies grasses and wildflowers, creating an ecology mix called woodlands. Forest covered some slopes and valleys. The diverse mosaic of natural communities provided abundant resources for food and shelter.
MDC today preserves and restores natural areas for hiking, birding, hunting, fishing and camping. Unplowed prairie fragments are rare. Statewide, less than one tenth of one percent of Missouri’s tallgrass prairie remains. Wah’Kon-Tah is home to a small flock of prairie chickens, an iconic grassland bird that once numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the state but are now state endangered. The tour will include visits to sites that show how MDC manages prairies to benefit grassland birds and plants with strategically planned mowing, haying, tree removal, prescribed burns and grazing.
Prairie plays a role in agriculture’s future, too. MDC private land specialists will be available to discuss management practices utilizing native warm season grasses for cattle forage. What can be economically beneficial to farms can also help grassland birds, including bobwhite quail. Wildlife such as deer and turkey also utilize native grasslands.
For information about Prairie Day, call 417-876-5226. Information and a map for Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area are available at https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/wahkon-tah-prairie. To learn about prairie in Missouri, visit http://mdc.mo.gov.