Prairies in our Park

Prairies in our Parks

At the time of European settlement nearly 17% or 55,000 acres of St. Louis County consisted of tall grass prairie. Most of the prairies were located in the northern and central portions of the County. These vast expanses of grassland stretched from the City of St. Louis north through St. Louis County and extended into neighboring St. Charles County. This land of grass reached heights of 6-8 feet and was home to a wide variety of fauna and flora.

Today, nearly all of the original 55,000 acres of prairie is gone. Urbanization, agriculture, fire suppression and the lack of proper management quickly doomed the tall grass prairie. Recognizing this tremendous loss Saint Louis County Parks has attempted to recreate this unique natural resource through the planting of native prairie grasses and wildflowers. Once established these sites no longer need fertilizer, watering, and thus represent a reduction in maintenance while providing a unique habitat for wildlife and people.

One of the key management tools for prairie is the use of fire to control woody invasion. Fire, once referred to as the “Red Buffalo,” by Native Americans can sweep through the prairie and eliminate the invasive trees and not harm the prairie flora component. Historically, fires occurred throughout Missouri and were either started by Native Americans or lightening strikes. Today’s burns are conducted by Park staff, when weather conditions and fuel level are such that a purposeful and safe burn can be conducted.

Spanish Lake Park

This 15-acre prairie is located on the north end of Sunfish Lake. As part of the original prairie belt, historically, this North County prairie extended across the Missouri River into St. Charles County. The 1-mile King’s Trace Trail, traverses the Spanish Lake Prairie. This site was planted in 1990.

Fort Belle Fontaine Park

This 60-acre upland prairie is located in the southwestern end of the park. As you enter the gate, park in the parking lot and walk the Lewis & Clark Trail. The prairie, and a newly planted 10 acre wetland area, is located at the beginning of the trail. This prairie was planted in the fall of 2005 and will have its first burn early in 2008.

*Please see the attachment The Praire.jpg for a larger version of this image.

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