Flowers

Native wildflowers are abundant at the Black River-Mima Mounds Glacial Heritage Preserve north of Rochester. Red elderberry, native balsam rott, common camas, golden paintbrush, prairie lupine, golden rod and death camas are all colorful swatches on the native prairie canvas.

Jordan Nailon/jnailon@chronline.

When you’re wandering around a rolling prairie carved out by the hulking glaciers of the last ice age it’s easy to develop a warped sense of time and space.

Take Kathy Whitlock for example. As treasurer for the Friends of Puget Prairies group, Whitlock has been busy as of late, getting word out about the upcoming Prairie Appreciation Day celebrations that are planned at two magnificent prairies next week as well as a trio of local farms.

“I’ve only been doing it about 15 years,” said Whitlock as she downplayed the extent of her role in the ongoing preservation and celebration efforts of some of the region’s few remaining intact prairie ecosystems.

In any case, the 22nd annual Prairie Appreciation Day is slated for May 12, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Glacial Heritage Preserve near Rochester and the Mima Mounds Natural Area on the outskirts of Littlerock. That day, there will also be open house gatherings at Shotwell’s Landing Nursery, Violet Prairie Seed Farm, and Colvin Ranch.

While most Prairie Appreciation Day activities will officially get started at 10 a.m., eager visitors will head to Glacial Heritage Preserve early in order to participate in a bird walk led by the Black Hills Audubon Society. That bird noting stroll is set to begin at 7:30 a.m. 

Other than that guided walk, the day will be largely free-form with visitors able to come and go around each location as they please. Besides the birds, there will be plenty to see. According to a press release from the Friends of Puget Prairies, “In May, the prairie is usually spangled with swaths of blue camas with accents of spring gold and buttercups.”

The Glacial Heritage Preserve is home to two interpretive loop trails. One trail, known as the Activity Trail, is roughly one mile long, while the Self-Guided Trail covers about four miles of prairie grounds. For visitors who may find that long of a walk to be cumbersome, or even impossible, the Friends of Puget Prairies have arranged for a tractor and attached a hay wagon to provide rolling tours.

“The Activity Trail contains a number of informative stations covering various aspects of our South Sound prairies. The stations have experts to discuss each topic as well as activities for children and the young at heart. Take the opportunity to make seed balls, try your hands at writing with ink made from oak galls, talk to experts about gardening with native prairie plants or how fire is used to restore prairies. Or just bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the hayride,” read the release from Friends of Puget Prairies. 

The release added, “The Self-Guided Trail has interpretive signs pointing out many of the unique features of these prairies, and is a good choice for those who just want to absorb the ambiance.”

Whitlock noted that admission to the events is free, with a suggested donation of non-perishable food in non-glass containers for the Thurston County Food Bank.

“We’re just looking for advertisement to get people out to enjoy the prairie. Normally the prairie where we are at Glacial Heritage is not open to the public,” noted Whitlock. 

Over at the Mima Mounds Natural Area visitors will be able to walk around the miles of trails that weave around the prairies mysterious namesake mounds. The majority of those trails are paved, which makes them suitable for strollers, walkers and wheelchairs. Group tours can also be arranged in advance.

“Walk around the mounds in full flower and learn restoration techniques like broom pulling,” read the Friends of Puget Prairies press release. “This location is fully handicapped accessible with a paved trail that is ideal for families with toddlers and those who want a less strenuous experience.”

At Shotwell’s Landing, visitors will be able to tour a native plant garden and seed nursery, while visitors to Violet Prairie Farm will be treated to row upon row of colorful blooms. At Colvin Ranch, the gates won’t open until 11 a.m., after morning chores, but after that visitors will be able to take in the sights at a real life working prairie ranch.

Visitors to the five Prairie Appreciation Day locations are respectfully requested to leave their pets at home for the day due to the potential for conflict with other visitors, as well as concerns about damage to sensitive terrain or run-ins with wildlife.

“On the prairie they actually prefer not to have dogs there. There’s not actually a law, or rule, but they prefer not to because they can damage the native flowers and the native plants,” explained Whitlock. “There are some rare plants out there and that’s what they are worried about.”

According the Friends of Puget Prairies release, domestic pets “are not allowed at Mima Mounds and are inappropriate at Glacial Heritage. Since temperatures can be quite warm, it is not safe to leave your pets in the car.”

In addition to Glacial Heritage Preserve and the Mima Mounds Natural Area, Whitlock added that there are intact prairie habitats located on Fort Lewis near Yelm, as well as the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in between Grand Mound, Rochester and Tenino.

“There’s actually native prairie up on the San Juan Islands that has the exact same type of habitat. It’s amazing what they’ve got up there,” said Whitlock, who remains in awe of all the offerings of the prairies even as she edges closer to two decades of volunteer work with Friends of Puget Prairies. 

Whitlock says that Prairie Appreciation Day has time and time again proven to be a hit with first-time visitors and old prairie dogs alike.

“It’s educational. We gear it towards kids to engage them,” said Whitlock. “We’re always looking to introduce new people.”

To arrange special accommodations or a group tour email prairieappreciationday@gmail.com. Additional information can be found online at prairieappreciationday.org, or by calling 360-458-5450.

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