Take a hike and enjoy the outdoors in our region's natural landscape.
Take a hike and enjoy the outdoors in our region's natural landscape.

Exploring Native Prairies 🌻

About seven generations ago, prairie swept across 40% of North America, known only to its Native American inhabitants, the wildlife that roamed the plains and white traders. Over the last 10,000 years, the area had developed into a unique, biodiverse environment shaped by ice, wind and fire. 🧊🌬️🔥

Within a generation of white settlement, most of the prairie was converted to agriculture. Now, only about 1% of that native prairie remains, making it one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems.

Around Kansas City, the prairie gives its name to villages, art installations and shopping centers, yet none of those entities provide the sensibilities of the windswept open range.

It’s an environment that seems broad and plain at first look, but further exploration reveals complexity in a landscape that both restores air quality and cleanses the soul. We think it's safe to say we could all use a little more of that right now. 🧘

Here are a few pieces of local native prairie you can still explore and appreciate up close. 🌻
1. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
“On the prairie one can see the color of the air.” — Emily Murphy

Protected by the unplowable Flint Hills, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is one of the last and largest remaining stretches of tallgrass prairie. It's located about 2 hours southwest of Kansas City, just close enough for a day trip. 🚗

Operated in partnership between the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy, the site is open 24 hours a day, with 40 miles of hiking trails and rolling hills of unparalleled scenery and unimpeded night sky viewing. It’s home to birds, deer, coyote, herds of bison and a horse named Badger. 🐴 


There's also a historic home currently under renovation, a barn — where Badger lives and helps with history presentations — and a schoolhouse built in 1882. 🏫

You can learn more about the history of the prairie and the people who lived in the area prior to white settlement by visiting the Kaw Mission State Historic Site in nearby Council Grove.
2. Local Remnants
“…. a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning.” — Lyndon B. Johnson.

From the city concrete to sterile suburban lawns, it may seem like the prairie wilderness is far afield; but remnants of prairie pocket the region, close enough for a restorative hike through our environmental history.

In Missouri, Jerry Smith Park in south Kansas City has the only piece of remaining prairie within city limits. You can see all the public prairies in Missouri on this interactive map.

In Olathe, Kansas, The Prairie Center provides relatively easy access to the landscape, with both gravel and trimmed paths through the grasses of remnant and reclaimed prairie. A creek and many ponds create varied environments to explore within the 300-acre park. Cedar Niles Park, set to open in 2021, will be adjacent and also include restored prairie land.

A handful of local parks include sections devoted to prairie restorations, including Shawnee Mission Park, Powell Gardens and the Overland Park Arboretum. Grasslands Heritage Foundation lists many of these regional prairie sites on their website.
3. Conservation and Restoration of Native Landscapes 
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.” — Aldo Leopold

Since only a small portion of native prairie remains, wildlife enthusiasts engage in both preservation and restoration.

To bolster the 1-4% of remaining prairie, many conservationists turn their attention to reclaiming prairie lands by removing invasive species and replanting native seed for grasses, trees and shrubs that help the land prevent erosion and resist drought conditions. 🌱

Kansas City WildLands aims to restore and protect the region’s public natural landscapes, in part by connecting resource professionals with conservation-minded citizens to achieve that goal. There are lots of ways to help.

But restoration isn’t just about replanting regional flora. Plants and animals maintain a complex relationship, pollinating flowers, spreading seeds, eating the grasses and — especially in the case of bison — turning the soil and adding nutrients back in.

Missouri Prairie Foundation promotes prairie management, education, research and advocacy for the protection of native environments, with 3,200 acres of prairie in 23 locations around the state.

4. Plant A Pocket Prairie
“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee.” Emily Dickinson. 🐝

While it might take more than revery to restore these native lands, Dickinson wasn’t too far off. Adding even a few native plants to a yard or green space can enhance local biodiversity. 🌻


In urban or suburban environments, pocket prairies (or micro prairies) in parking strips or traffic medians help with storm runoff, air quality and ease of maintenance, and can work well for home and school settings, too.

It’s not just a matter of retiring the lawnmower, though. Evaluate your space. Along with reintroducing native species, you may also need to remove non-native species and eradicate invasive ones.

Organizations like Grow Native, from the Missouri Prairie Foundation, or the Kansas Native Plant Society can help identify the type of native plants that will flourish in different settings. 🌿

 More Adventures in Kansas City

I'd Rather Be a Hummingbird: StoneLion Puppet Theatre Virtual Show

Join StoneLion Puppet Theatre for a virtual puppet show hosted by Mid-Continent Public Library. Your kids will love the story of Nigel the Beaver and his little hummingbird friend. Watch it live Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. on MCPL's Facebook page.
When Women Won the Right to Vote: History, Myth and Memory

How well do you know the 19th Amendment? Discover the much larger story of 1920 and the ongoing pursuit of voting rights in this virtual event hosted by The National WWI Museum and Memorial. Join the discussion Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m. Sign up here.

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Photo Credits:
1. Libby Hanssen | KCUR
2. Libby Hanssen | KCUR

3. Libby Hanssen | KCUR

4. Grace Lotz | KCUR

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