MDC grasslands offer summer visitors varied vistas

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Kansas City
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Kansas City, Mo. – What a prairie shows a visitor varies according to seasons, weather and how grassland acres are managed. The variety is an attraction for people who enjoy wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. What’s blooming changes from the bright-red Indian paintbrush of spring through the autumn’s yellow sunflowers. Native warm season grasses barely sprouting from the ground after a prescribed burn in early spring may be head high by mid-summer.

June is a good month to visit prairies. Perhaps butterflies are visiting coneflowers in bloom or quail are calling at sunrise. For those who need an extra excuse, June 3 is National Prairie Day. The Missouri Prairie Foundation registered the first Saturday in June as an observance on the National Day Calendar.

But actually, any day is a good day to visit a prairie, and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) maintains some of the state’s best public prairies. Less than one tenth of one percent of the state’s original prairies remain as unplowed remnants. But they hold hundreds of native plant species that support insects, birds and other wildlife. White-tailed deer and wild turkey utilize prairie. But so do monarch butterflies and the regal fritillary butterfly, a species of conservation concern.

Some notable public prairies open for visitors include:

  • Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area north of El Dorado Springs. The 3,000-acre area has unplowed prairie remnants and areas under restoration with native grasses and wildflowers. Large portions of the area are owned by The Nature Conservancy of Missouri and managed by MDC.
  • Osage Prairie Conservation Area south of Nevada. A 1,545-acre area which includes a high-quality prairie natural area.
  • Pawnee Prairie Conservation Area north of Bethany. This area has 300-acres of unplowed prairie. Wildflowers are abundant in mid-summer. This area is also near The Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch, a partner with MDC in prairie preservation and restoration in the Grand River Grasslands.
  • Paint Brush Prairie Conservation Area south of Sedalia. This 314-acre area is easily accessed off U.S. 65. The area includes a 74-acre natural area rich in wildflowers and grasses. Several other MDC-managed grasslands are in the vicinity such as Friendly Prairie and Grandfather Prairie.

Most prairie areas do not have marked hiking trails. But they do have service or farm roads that can serve as trails. Check out maps on the MDC website for parking lots, roads and the location of high-quality prairie acres designated as Missouri Natural Areas.

Walking in a prairie is not always easy, especially as vegetation continues to grow through summer. Dress for the outdoors, take water and snacks. Insect repellant is handy, ticks like the prairie as much as they do the forest. Don’t forget cameras and binoculars.

What a visitor sees on a prairie will depend on the history of management on the land. MDC uses management practices such as prescribed fire, haying and grazing to maintain prairies. How a prairie looks one year might be different the next, and weather is a factor. Regardless, prairies change week to week in the growing season.

MDC manages many prairies or conservation areas with open woodlands throughout the state. To learn more about Missouri’s grasslands, or to find a prairie near you, visit