A free Prairie Day event on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Dunn Ranch Prairie and Pawnee Prairie west of Bethany in Harrison County. Bison tours and grassland conservation exhibits will be among the activities hosted by the Missouri Department of Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Loess Hills Missouri Master Naturalists.
Prairie Day celebrates the grazing and wildlife habitat improvements by private landowners and public land managers in the Grand River Grasslands, a cooperative effort with partners in Missouri and Iowa.
“The Grand River Grasslands in Harrison County and neighboring Iowa have important remnant and restored native prairie grasslands,” said TJ Peacher, MDC education district supervisor. “Many people who have lived here for long periods of time may not realize what they have. We hope people come out and visit with us and learn how special this area is.”
Most of northwest Missouri was once covered by tallgrass prairie, interspersed with scattered groves of woodland trees or widely dispersed trees like bur oaks in grassy savannas. This rich ecosystem hosted bison, elk, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, prairie chickens, and a wide variety of other wildlife and wildflowers. Prairies over centuries formed the rich soils that today support the state’s ranching and agriculture. As scientists and ranchers learn more about prairie ecology, they are adapting elements to boost livestock forage and profits along with better wildlife habitats.
“Native warm-season grasses such as big bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass provides highly nutritious forage during the summer months,” said Dave Hoover, MDC resource management supervisor. “That improves livestock performance during the traditional ‘summer slump’ of cool-season forages. Along with improved livestock performance, wildlife such as quail, prairie chickens, wild turkey, and countless beneficial pollinating insects benefit as well.”
The event will kick off at 8 a.m. with a guided birding hike at MDC’s Pawnee Prairie Conservation Area northwest of Dunn Ranch Prairie. Autumn wildflowers will be blooming. Grasses such as big bluestem will be tall. Grassland birds will be feeding on insects and seeds.
Activities at TNC’s Dunn Ranch Prairie picnic shelter will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wagons pulled by tractors will take visitors for tours of the prairie and see TNC’s bison herd grazing on the grasses. MDC experts will be on hand to discuss conservation ranching and ways to profitably utilize native warm-season grasses in cattle forage rotations. Prairie plant identification, creatures, and streams will be part of walking tours or displays. Visitors will learn how to use prairie plants, whether in a farm operation or a backyard garden, to benefit pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
TNC’s Dunn Ranch Prairie shelter and headquarters are located at 16970 W. 150th St., Hatfield, Mo. All ages and families are welcome; no registration is required. Lunch concessions will be available onsite. COVID-19 precautions will be observed. Bring your cameras, binoculars, and curiosity to enjoy a close look at Missouri’s grassland heritage, including bison.
For more information on Prairie Days, call MDC’s Northwest Regional Office at 816-271-3100. To learn more about prairie in Missouri, visit Prairies | Missouri Department of Conservation (mo.gov).