Short Grass on the Prairie
If you visit Prairie Ridge over the next month or so, you’ll likely notice that the grasses are shorter than usual in many areas of the grounds. Part of the prairie (near the pond and along the lowlands of the Forest Trail) was burned in November during our annual prescribed burn. Over the last few days, the grasses near the parking lot have also been reduced to nubs. This part of the prairie was mowed, and for a good reason. The Prairie Ridge prairie is a demonstration of what the prairies of North Carolina looked like before they were eliminated due to proliferation of farmland and urbanization. Back when prairies were part of North Carolina’s natural landscape, we had two things that helped keep them healthy and prevent encroachment of forests into the grasses: fire and large grazing mammals. Species such as Bison and Elk used to roam North Carolina, and their grazing helped thin the grasses and fertilize the land. We can’t bring in large grazing mammals to feed on our grasses now, but we can mimic some of the services they provided mechanically. By mowing the prairie, we help replenish nutrients to the soil and remove vegetation, allowing the sun to reach new seedlings that will sprout up in the prairie come spring.
Fire and mowing are important management tools we use to keep our prairie looking its best. It might not look like much now, but there are lots of animals making use of the bald patches! Look for big flocks of Robins hunting seeds and insects, small mammals such as Hispid Cotton Rats darting across the surface, and birds of prey searching for food overhead. Come on out and see what you can discover roaming over the short grass!
-- posted 2/28/2014
Burning the Prairie
The annual Prairie Ridge controlled burn took place on November 19th. As in past years, our natural resources manager, Brian Hahn, led a team of highly skilled firemen from the NC Division of Forest Resources and Western Wake Fire Department in the burn, focusing this year on the lower prairie. Controlled burns mimic natural processes and are an important part of the management of our prairie, helping to reduce the competition from woody plants and replenish vital soil nutrients. The underground roots and seeds of the grasses and wildflowers are protected from the effects of the fire and will quickly regrow into a healthier prairie.
You might see blackened areas near the pond and along the Forest Trail over the next few weeks, but keep an eye out for wildlife in the burned areas! We often see increased activity in our small mammal populations and birds of prey in burn areas.
— posted 11/22/13
Prairie Ridge Nature PlaySpace Now Open!
After an opening preview event on Wednesday, September 25, the Nature PlaySpace at Prairie Ridge officially opened to the public on Saturday, September 28 during our annual Take a Child Outside (TACO) celebration. Over 300 people attended the opening and TACO events and helped make the day a huge success! After story time and a productive citizen science ladybug hunt, the PlaySpace was opened with great fanfare as our Director of Research and Collections, Dr. Jason Cryan, cut the vine and let everyone explore the new play area. Visitors enjoyed facilitated free-play time in the tunnel, at the water stations, digging in the fossil pits, and exploring rotting logs while others explored the Prairie Ridge grounds with staff as we searched for grasshoppers and turtles. It was a beautiful day, and people streamed in long after our opening ended. We had a lot of fun, and we are excited to offer the PlaySpace as a new activity at Prairie Ridge.
The PlaySpace is now open to the public our regular hours, Monday–Saturday from 9am–4:30pm and Sunday from noon–4:30pm, so come on out and play!
— posted 10/4/13
Nature Stories Gets a Strong Start
Thursday, August 22 marked the start of a new weekly program at Prairie Ridge aimed at young children: Nature Stories! Children gathered around our outdoor amphitheater and enjoyed a story about a caterpillar transforming into an adult butterfly before acting out the steps of metamorphosis themselves. After the story, everyone visited the Prairie Ridge garden to look for live butterflies. Participants got a little sidetracked by a Black Rat Snake curled up in the American Wisteria, but everyone had a chance to see several beautiful butterflies and caterpillars and listen to the Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars chewing the Woolly Pipevine. Over 40 people attended our first Nature Stories, and we are looking forward to offering more stories and nature adventures each Thursday from 10-11am. We hope you’ll join us!
— posted 8/29/13
Science in the Treetops
As part of a larger project researching tiny creatures called water bears, Dr. “Canopy Meg” Lowman brought students, volunteers, and the public to Prairie Ridge on August 9 to demonstrate how researchers get high into trees to collect scientific samples. Tree climbing experts rigged several trees with ropes, then invited everyone to take a turn scaling a tree. People of all ages and mobilities, including several wheelchair-dependent people, climbed high into the treetops to see how canopy researchers do their work. People streamed in all day and dozens of people had a chance to experience what it’s like to be a canopy researcher. It was a fun opportunity for everyone involved, and one we hope to have repeated!
— posted 8/15/13
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