MDC and The Nature Conservancy hosting free Prairie Day Sept. 9 at Dunn Ranch

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Bethany, Mo. – The beauty and diversity of Missouri’s native grassland heritage will be celebrated at a free Prairie Day event on Saturday, Sept. 9, 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 (MDC), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Loess Hills and Osage Trails Missouri Master Naturalists.

Bison tours, nature exhibits, a guided birding hike, and stories about Native Americans on the prairies are just some of the activities planned. TNC’s Dunn Ranch has both remnant and restored native grassland that is grazed by a bison herd. The bright yellow sunflowers of varying types will be in late summer bloom amid grasses like big bluestem.

Prairie once covered most of northwest Missouri. But unplowed native grasslands are extremely rare now. Dunn Ranch and MDC’s Pawnee Prairie are some of the best surviving examples.

“The reason I love the prairie is due to the plant diversity,” said Dave Hoover, MDC regional resource manager. “It’s an ecological plant community that is so rare now in North America. You are able to see things like bison and grassland birds. These prairies give us a glimpse back in time of how this landscaped look before it was settled. Rich prairie soils are also the reason why we’re the breadbasket of the world.”

Not all of prairie is in the past. Native grasses can play a profitable role in livestock grazing rotations. Restoring native grasses can also boost wildlife habitat quality. Plus, property owners are also using native wildflowers and grasses to create patches of habitat for pollinator species, or to create buffers along crop field edges that can reduce erosion and boost water quality in drainages.

Prairie Day will begin with a guided birding hike from 7 to 9 a.m. at MDC’s Pawnee Prairie Conservation Area northwest of Dunn Ranch. Activities at TNC’s Dunn Ranch 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 to 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.

Missouri Western State University professors and students will be on hand for walking tours or displays about prairie plant identification, prairie reptiles and amphibians, and prairie mammals. There will be a prairie streams display. Visitors will be able to learn how to use prairie plants whether in a farm operation or in a backyard garden to benefit pollinators such as butterflies and bees. A storyteller will talk about how Native Americans interacted with the wildlife and plants on the prairie.

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. 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 (