Spring Creek Ranch
Points of Interest:
- Enjoy a rare view in Missouri today, savanna.
- Wander among short, steep hills mantled in native grasses.
- Explore another rarity, an intact prairie headwater stream.
Natural Features Description:
Savannas – areas of widely scattered trees (mainly oaks) with prairie grasses and wildflowers growing in the open spaces between – were common in Missouri in 1800. Today this natural community is rare. While there are many areas with widely scattered trees (e.g., parks, pastures) the plants growing in-between are non-native bluegrass or tall fescue. Here the side slopes of the hills were never plowed and so they retained their native seed bank. Over the past decade resource managers here have used prescribed fires, thinning, and removal of exotic, invasive species to restore savanna natural communities. At the same time fisheries biologists have been documenting the importance of this site for its intact prairie headwater stream system that sits in a watershed nearly all in a conservation ownership.
Growing among the big and little bluestem grasses are a variety of prairie wildflowers: pale purple coneflower, purple and white prairie clover, finger coreopsis and Missouri goldenrod. Woody shrubs indicative of savanna include lead plant, New Jersey tea, hazelnut, prairie willow and dwarf chinkapin oak. Red-headed woodpecker, eastern bluebird, yellow-breasted chat, eastern towhee, blue-winged warbler and field sparrow are commonly found here. The headwater stream is characterized by extensive beaver dams and wetlands. Four fish species in the stream – creek chub, white sucker, common shiner and brassy minnow – are habitat specialists, requiring healthy stream conditions.
This natural area is within Union Ridge Conservation Area. From Kirksville, travel west on Highway 6 about 18 miles to Green Castle. Then head north on Highway D for about 2 miles. At the Y intersection, go left (west) on Mead Road (gravel). Proceed for 0.5 mile then turn right (north) on Ironbank Road. Follow Ironbank Road north for about 1.5 miles to the parking area on the right. From here the natural area stretches out to the east. Hunting and fishing are permitted. A map and compass are recommended for exploring this area.