By David Markham
JCPRD appreciates that park patrons enjoy local prairie wildflowers, but we need your help in preserving these rare living gems for everyone to enjoy and for the fragile ecosystems that depend on them.
Each spring and early fall, prairie areas, particularly in Shawnee Mission Park, see an influx of folks visiting these areas as backdrops for family or individual photographs and inadvertently or absentmindedly trample or pick flowers without realizing the significant damage that they’re doing.
“Shawnee Mission Park has national-park-level visitation with millions of visitors annually,” said JCPRD Natural Resource Manager Matt Garrett. “Ogg Prairie and the small prairie restorations scattered across Shawnee Mission Park are the last pockets of prairie left near the I-435 loop. These are truly some of the last reservoirs of prairie in the county. Some individual plants at Ogg Prairie are the only representatives of these species for 20 miles in any direction. Native bees surveyed at the site are specialists that need some of these very specific plants to survive. Trampled flowers equate to the loss of these critical pollinators.”
While millions of people visit Shawnee Mission Park each year, it takes only a fraction of visitors picking and trampling sensitive plants to create a large impact. Butterflies, bees, birds, and small mammals depend on the seeds, nectar, and pollen in these prairies for life. In fact, some native bee species inhabit relatively small areas and sustain their lives from only a single species of wildflower.
To reinforce this message, staff have placed “Don’t Doom the Bloom” signs near popular wildflower areas as reminders.
Garrett noted that in the 1850s, 84% of Johnson County was prairie. According to the Kansas Biological Survey only 0.006% of that high-quality prairie remains. For many years now, JCPRD has been a regional leader in concerted efforts to preserve remnants of existing prairie and to plant additional acres of prairie.
“JCPRD prairie goals include stabilizing and increasing diversity on all prairie sites,” Garrett said. “Rare prairie seed hand collected by volunteers in the fall and distributed in the winter can’t recover once trampled in early summer. It’s the same with small wildflower plugs planted across restoration areas; they can’t handle the repeated off-trail daily foot traffic. We’ve seen everything from couches taken into the prairies to actual SUVs driven into the wildflowers by photographers. Soil compaction also becomes an issue with thousands of visitors standing in the same spots to capture the wildflower blooms.”
This issue is primarily focused on the park’s prairies with large displays of stunning wildflowers.
“The biggest impacts are being seen at easily accessible prairies at Shawnee Mission Park,” Garrett said. “Plants with limited populations are the most at risk like rare milkweeds or species like Groundplum Milkvetch (only two plants on the north side of the entire park) but all plants growing in these tiny prairies can’t thrive when pulled from the ground by visitors.”
Garrett offered some guidelines and suggestions for those wanting to visit and/or photograph prairie areas.
“Enjoy the wildflowers, but stay on designated trails and think creatively about how you take and share photos on social media,” he said. “Visit during off-peak hours and remember that these are truly globally rare reservoirs of biodiversity. Reframe your thought process from getting a perfect photo at the expense of a globally rare ecosystem to just enjoying the flowers,” he said. “Educate others, be a good example, don’t pick flowers, don’t trample flowers to get a better view because the impacts radiate out as everyone tries to get better photos. Resist the urge to share precise locations of wildflower blooms on social media.”