Points of Interest:
• Visit a rarity in the lower Ozarks – a prairie.
• Explore sinkhole ponds that provide important habitat for amphibians and dragonflies.
• In the spring look in the woods for the Ozark trillium.
Natural History: Prairies in the central Ozarks? Yes large areas of the high flat watershed divides in the central and western Ozarks were dominated by a mix of prairie and savanna. Around Lebanon, West Plains, Licking, Mountain View, and Salem are historic prairie and savanna areas. Of Howell County, where Tingler Prairie is, Walter Schroeder wrote in his work, Presettlement Prairie of Missouri (1981): “In the level-to-gently rolling uplands…the [U.S. General Land Office] surveyors [of 1820-1850] never used “prairie,” “grass,” nor “barrens,” [in their descriptions of section lines] but nevertheless often could not find trees for witnesses at section corners, or had to sight them at distances of … 150 to 300 links (100 to 200 feet) from the corner.” Here visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of grassland birds such as northern bobwhite, dickcissel, eastern blue bird, and even an occasional northern harrier or upland sandpiper.
Tingler Prairie supports cherty upland prairie but also small areas of prairie wetlands in the swales and along headwater creek drainages. These prairie swales support a number of uncommon wetland plants including seven plant species of conservation concern, such as the Virginia sneezeweed, listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The golden yellows of the sneezeweed are evident in late summer.
A sinkhole pond is found in the center of the area. Sinkholes are formed from the dissolution of the carbonate rocks from eons of weathering from slightly acidic rainwater. Most sinkholes drain quickly but some have a better developed plug of clays and organic soils such as the one here that holds water. In the shallow depths of the pond grows buttonbush, common rush, sedges, pickerel weed, swamp beggar’s ticks, and eight plant species of conservation concern such as sharp-scaled manna grass.
The sinkhole pond and prairie swales provide a rich habitat for over 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies and a number of amphibians including the eastern tiger salamander, a species of conservation concern. On damp and warm spring days at dusk a great chorus of spring peepers and western chorus frogs can be heard. Also in the spring in the cherty woodlands on the east side of the area along short slopes leading down to the South Fork of the Spring River visitors might spot the Ozark Wake Robin. This rare trillium is restricted to the Ozark ecoregion.
From the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 63 in West Plains drive south on Highway 17 for about 6 miles to the junction with County Road 9100 (gravel) and turn right (west). Continue west on County Road 9100 for 0.7 mile and turn left (south) on to County Road 8100. Drive south 1.4 miles to the parking lot on the left (east side) of the gravel road. Three hiking trail loops provide good access to the natural area and include the 1 mile Prairie Trail, the 0.5 mile Sinkhole Pond Trail, and the 1 mile Woodland Trail. Fishing and hunting are allowed.