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A Natural Area Anniversary

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

example of a Natural Area that has been expanded to include more natural features and the landscapes they comprise.

Jam-Up Cave Natural Area, designated in 1980, features a massive cave that exits a cliff face in a meander of the Jacks Fork River. In the geologic past, a rear entrance of the cave captured a surface stream and rerouted it through the cave. This phenomenon is called "stream piracy."

False bugbane, harebell and American barberry, plants that are relicts of the Ice Age, grow along this stretch of the river, but they exist in few other places in Missouri. In 1995, the National Park Service expanded Jam-Up Cave Natural Area, creating the Jacks Fork Natural Area to capture additional features within the rugged river hills landscape.

Tucked among the hills above the Missouri River floodplain in Holt County, Little Tarkio Prairie is an isolated relic of the once dominant dry-mesic prairie type. Dry-mesic means the prairie moisture level is moderate, and the types of organisms present are adapted to conditions that fall somewhere between dry and moist.

While the "Little" in Little Tarkio does reflect the area's small size (15 acres), the term does not depict the area's true value. Seeds from Little Tarkio are the building blocks of future prairies. More than 100 species of plants growing there will provide a harvest of restoration opportunities for years to come. In early June, coneflowers, prairie clover and prairie phlox dress this little prairie in multiple shades of purple. Such splendor can be found in very few places north of the Missouri River.

The small pieces of prairie like Little Tarkio, Helton Prairie in Harrison County, and Tarkio Prairie (not much bigger than Little Tarkio Prairie) in Atchison County hold the hope of recreating a portion of the former prairie ecosystem in Northwest Missouri. This local, homegrown seed is thought to be more likely to succeed in prairie restoration attempts because its source has adapted over time in this region's climate instead of the climate in a distant region of the country.

In Dent County, the dolomite glades within Indian Trail Natural Area are beautiful rocky openings surrounded by post oak and pine woodlands. One route of the Trail of Tears, taken by the Cherokees from the Appalachians to Oklahoma, reportedly traverses this area. By about mid-May, thousands of brightly blooming Indian paintbrushes dot the landscape. This is an atypical display,

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