We need to talk about the birds and the bees

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager of watershed partnerships
For many of us, enjoying prairies has been limited to what we saw on (or see in reruns of) TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie.” That’s because by the middle of the 20th century, nearly all of the North American prairie grasslands had been destroyed by extensive farming. The result was miles and miles of soil with no strong prairie grass to hold it in place, and few trees to block the wind.
In the late 1700s, it was documented that over 1,500 square miles (or 1 million acres) of tall grass prairies existed in Ohio. Today, there are less than 100 acres of original, unturned prairies remaining throughout Ohio.

MCD prairie at Lockington Dam

But these unique and complex ecosystems are making a comeback.

And MCD is working to help the cause. We have developed prairies with native plantings in in Hamilton, Lockington, and Sidney. The plantings are not only contributing to total prairie acreage but prairies help wildlife, filter runoff, and reduce MCD maintenance costs. 

These projects enable existing populations of birds and bees, and perhaps new ones, to populate river floodplains and riparian areas. Prairie areas also act as a water filtration system, filtering water as it passes underground and potentially improving groundwater, the source of our region’s drinking water. And the roots act as pathways for water to enter the soil to recharge the aquifer.

Plantings on MCD land include:

  • Two areas downstream of Lockington Dam with native flowers, shrubs, and grasses. One area is near the east end of the dam, and the other is between Loramie Creek and Kader Road.
  • The Hamilton Ponds area off Neilan Boulevard.

MCD also helped sponsor plantings at three locations on the City of Sidney’s park properties along the Great Miami River.

Coneflowers are one of the many native flowering plants on MCD prairie land.

Creating prairies 

Among the MCD plantings are tall grasses with deep roots systems such as big bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass. Coneflower, blazingstar, sawtooth sunflower, prairie dock, wild bergamot and spiderwort are some of the native flowering prairie plants.

The prairies’ growth and development can be maintained in future years by burning or mowing on a regular basis. MCD is primarily using a mowing regimen to control most weed problems and produce a healthy prairie habitat.

You can also grow your own prairie – thanks to the advice from our friends at the National Trail Parks and Recreation District.

Other local prairies you can visit

July and August are great months to visit prairies because the colorful flowering plants are in full bloom. But please only take photos home with you. Visitors should not pick flowers or plants because habitat loss leads to species decline.

  • Huffman Prairie State Natural Landmark – This very special 112-acre prairie is one of the largest prairie remnants in Ohio and home to flowering plants, birds and insects, many of them rare. The prairie became a state natural landmark in 1986. Today Five Rivers MetroParks and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base care for the site.
  • Stillwater Prairie Preserve, Miami County Park District
  • Germantown MetroPark, Five Rivers Metroparks
  • Brother Don Geiger Prairie, Mount Saint John
A Wright Flyer over a pasture on the Huffman Farm. Today that land is known as Huffman Prairie. MCD purchased the land to be part of the Huffman Dam retarding basin. By 1925, the land had been transferred to the military.

Recommended reading
Nolin, D. 2018. Discover and Renewal on Huffman Prairie – Where Aviation Took Wing. Kent State University Press

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