Prairie Ridge Ecostation consists of 38.5 acres of old cow pasture. This pasture has been transformed into a variety of habitats including prairie grassland, bottomland forest, ponds and stream. A diversity of plants, animals and other life can be found among the myriad habitats of this special place.
As early as 1540, explorers reported “savannas” in the Carolina Piedmont. These open expanses were probably the result of lightning fires or of fires set by Native Americans to clear land for planting. Grazing animals such as elk and bison may have also helped maintain the prairies. The many streams and rivers in the Piedmont created natural firebreaks, causing these prairies to be smaller than those in the Midwest.
As the Native Americans and grazing animal populations declined, so did the prairies. Remnant prairies are all that are left in North Carolina. Our prairie was established in a former cow pasture in the spring of 2004.
Jesse P. Perry Arboretum
One of the highlights of Prairie Ridge is our native tree arboretum, created by and named for retired Museum educator Jesse Perry. The project got its start in 2004 when a group of volunteers and Museum staff planted 56 trees in the first phase of our effort to restore our forested wetlands habitat. The arboretum features breeding pairs of nearly every tree species native to North Carolina, from the mountains to the sea. Some species, such as Bald Cypress, oaks, and hickories, are fairly well known, while others, such as Water Tupelo, Pumpkin Ash, and Parsley-leaf Hawthorn, are less familiar. You'll find the trees arranged by region along the lowlands bordering the creek, with the coastal trees located closest to Edwards Mill Road and the mountain trees closest to the Nature Play Space. Most trees are labeled with a tag that provides the species name, making our arboretum both a great educational tool and a wonderful showcase for the amazing trees of North Carolina.
The perennial stream, pond and wetlands at Prairie Ridge provide breeding and feeding sites for many animals. A variety of habitats come together here to meet the needs of many amphibians, reptiles, birds, invertebrates and mammals. Vegetation in wetland areas is also important for stream stabilization and water quality.
Seasonal pools are one of the critical aquatic habitats here at Prairie Ridge. These pools fill with water in the fall and winter but dry up during the summer, making them inhospitable to fish. The lack of these predators makes the seasonal pools good breeding habitats for salamanders, frogs and a variety of invertebrates.
The permanent pond is an important habitat for turtles and amphibians. It also serves as refuge for waterfowl, with shoreline and native wetland plants that attract birds and other wildlife.
Research at Prairie Ridge
The Museum hosts several active research efforts at Prairie Ridge. Museum scientists routinely use the grounds to band birds to study their movements and longevity, study large mammal populations with camera traps, and study small mammal populations with live capture-release programs. Scientists from across the Triangle make use of the grounds as well. Recent studies have included urban stream dynamics and geology (Meredith College), mosquito populations (NC State University), native bee populations (NC State University), the insect food base for birds (University of NC), tick populations (NC State University), and lichens (NC State University).
We are also active in a wide variety of citizen science projects and invite the public to get involved in authentic scientific research as citizen scientists. By offering a range of citizen science volunteer opportunities, public programs, and training sessions, we gather data in support of dozens of citizen science projects worldwide. Recent public programs have invited participants to gather data about dragonflies, frogs and toads, fireflies, bird nests, ladybugs, bird populations, Monarch butterflies, clouds, rain, and biodiversity. You can find more information about the Museum's citizen science program on our Citizen Science page .
We maintain a species list for the plants and animals of Prairie Ridge, which you may view or download here:
Animal species at Prairie Ridge  (PDF)
Garden plant species at Prairie Ridge  (PDF)
We use a variety of tools to monitor wildlife populations at Prairie Ridge, including infrared cameras, camera traps, and nestcams.