Regal Tallgrass Prairie
Points of Interest:
• See Missouri’s largest prairie remnant with wide-open horizons.
• Enjoy hundreds of species of prairie plants and the full range of prairie birds.
• Explore one of Missouri’s last remaining intact prairie streams.
• Witness bison and elk grazing on native prairie.
Natural History: Experience the grandeur and vastness of Missouri’s tallgrass prairie landscape. This is one of the largest prairie preserves remaining in Missouri, where over 99% of the prairies have been destroyed. Visitors can see the full range of prairie natural communities. Broad, flat ridges support hardpan prairies, prairies with a claypan in their soil that creates saturated conditions in the spring but can become rock hard by mid-summer. Narrow ridges and rocky gentle slopes have dry-mesic prairies with soils shallow to sandstone bedrock. One of the reasons these prairies were spared the plow is because of the less productive nature of their soils.
Hiking across this prairie you can enjoy waving native grasses and wildflowers that in places extend to the horizon. Visitors can watch bison and elk grazing the prairie. Throughout the growing season a procession of wildflowers can be enjoyed– over 380 native plants have been documented. In the early spring look for Indian paintbrush and prairie phlox followed by large-flowered coreopsis and pale purple coneflower in late spring. In the summer look for prairie blazing star, downy sunflower, and purple prairie clover. In the fall the prairie grasses take on a bronze hue and a plethora of colorful asters and goldenrods bloom. By late fall the deep indigo color of downy gentian is one of the last remaining blooms.
Besides wildflowers, bird watchers will find much to see and hear – 150 bird species have been observed at the park, including many grassland specialists: dickcissel, Henslow’s sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, field sparrow, eastern meadowlark, and scissor-tailed flycatcher. In the winter northern harriers, a species of conservation concern, and short-eared owls are commonly seen. In the spring listen for the calls of the northern crawfish frog and the prairie mole cricket – both species of conservation concern. In the summer look for regal fritillary butterflies (a species of conservation concern) nectaring on wildflowers along with more than 20 other butterfly species. East Drywood Creek, an Outstanding State Resource Water, runs through the center of the natural area. Streams surrounded by prairie have lower concentrations of nutrients that can cause water quality problems than streams surrounded by row crops and fescue pasture.
Park staff have worked hard to restore and maintain this prairie landscape. Without active management, prairie landscapes do not thrive. Prescribed fire combined with bison and elk grazing are used to maintain the prairie. In addition park staff work to combat invasive, exotic species such as sericea lespedeza. Important donors like Katharine Ordway through The Nature Conservancy (see: http://www.nature.org) and the Missouri Prairie Foundation (see: http://www.moprairie.org) provided funding for the purchase of much of the park’s acreage. The area was dedicated as a state park in 1982.
From Lamar take Highway 160 west 10.4 miles to Highway 43. Turn right (north) and travel 4.9 miles to Highway K. Turn left (west) on Highway K and drive 4.1 miles (pass through Liberal) to the intersection. Go left (south) onto Highway P and follow it for 2.2 miles. Turn left (south) onto NW 150th Lane (gravel) and go 1.8 miles south to the visitor center. There are five hiking trails that provide access to the natural area, these include: Coyote Trail (2 miles), Drovers Trail (2.5 miles), Gayfeather Trail (1.5 miles), Path of the Sky People (1.5 miles), and the Sandstone Trail (4.5 miles). Inquire at the visitor center for directions to the trailheads. Hunting is prohibited.