Points of Interest:
• Through the spring and summer see and hear a wide variety of grassland birds including the bobolink, upland sandpiper, and Henslow’s sparrow.
• Enjoy prairie landscape vistas with rolling hills and waving grasses and wildflowers.
• See one of the last large prairie remnants of north Missouri.
Natural History: Over 300 acres of unplowed, rolling dry-mesic upland prairie in the Grand River Hills region. Conservation Department staff has been restoring this prairie for over 12 years. The Nature Conservancy owns 443 acres adjacent to the natural area and their Dunn Ranch Preserve (3,680 acres) is just a mile away (for more information contact The Nature Conservancy at 314-968-1105). Together all of these lands, including Pawnee Prairie, protect over 1,000 acres of unplowed tallgrass prairie – one of the largest remaining prairie grasslands in the Central Dissected Till Plains Ecoregion that stretches from north Missouri and eastern Nebraska across Iowa into Illinois.
Visitors to Pawnee Prairie will be treated to wide-open prairie vistas with rolling hills blanketed by native grasses and wildflowers. A full suite of grassland birds utilize these prairies including Henslow’s sparrow, dickcissel, bobolink, grasshopper sparrow, northern harrier (a species of conservation concern), upland sandpiper, sedge wren, loggerhead shrike, willow flycatcher, Bell’s vireo, song sparrow, and vesper sparrow. The area supports a small population of the state endangered greater prairie-chickens as of 2009 and is a key location for the current prairie- chicken recovery project. Grassland birds have declined the most of any other group of birds in the midwest. During visits to the prairie you may see cattle grazing on portions of it. Grazing is used in conjunction with prescribed fire here to restore the two primary ecological forces of the prairie: fire and grazing.
Other prairie animals include the northern prairie skink (a species of conservation concern), southern bog lemming, regal fritillary butterfly (a species of conservation concern), and the prairie mound ant. Pawnee Prairie also contains a prairie headwaters stream that supports characteristic prairie fishes such as red shiner, redfin shiner, and Johnny darter. The plains leopard frog can be found in the wetlands along the drainages.
You can explore the different types of prairie communities by taking a summer or fall walk across the area. Along the drier ridge tops and upper slopes grows a waist-high mix of little bluestem, Indian grass, big bluestem, and side-oats grama grasses and leadplant, pale purple coneflower, and finger coreopsis wildflowers – a dry-mesic prairie. Along the lower slopes and in the valleys grows a head high mix of big bluestem, switchgrass, and eastern gamma grasses along with bunch flower, Michigan lily, and Culver’s root wildflowers – a mesic prairie. In the low ground along the creeks you will encounter prairie cordgrass, sedges, swamp milkweed, and sawtooth sunflower – a prairie swale.
From the intersection of Highway 46 and Highway U, travel west about 2 miles into the town of Hatfield and turn left (south) on to West 140th Avenue (turns to gravel). Travel south on the gravel road for about a half mile and the parking lot will be on the left (east) side of the road. Walk east into the prairie. Bring a map and compass for exploration. Hunting and fishing are permitted.