Pictured above: Paintbrush Prairie (Cydney Ross)
By Cydney Ross, Outdoor Education Manager

As a kid I always looked forward to our family camping trips. It was experiences of paddling on rivers and hiking in the woods that gave me some of my earliest connections with nature. The sentiment has stayed with me since and even when the heat of summer sets in, I long to get outdoors! Each year I pack up the car and spend as many days as possible visiting prairies, hiking woodland trails, and swimming in spring-fed rivers with my family. I look forward to it every year and there is no shortage of new places to visit!

Take time this summer to explore Midwestern woodlands, prairies, and streamways. Exploring quality habitat allows us to witness natural plant communities that have existed for thousands of years. How cool is that? I like to take it a step further and get inspired by Mother Nature. See which plants are growing where, with who, and how. Notice any wildlife interactions, like pollinators and birds.

The more time we spend outside the better we feel and the closer we get to nature. It’s through this appreciation we understand the value of our natural areas. Our observations of these spaces can translate into successful plant pairings and informed landscape decisions at home. I often take photos or jot down notes in my nature journal for future reference.

Check out this short list of my favorite summer spots to visit. I organized it by habitat-type, so you know exactly where to go to for inspiration. Let us know your favorite natural areas and remember, practice Leave No Trace so everyone can enjoy these spaces.

H.A.G.S! (Have a great summer!)

-Cydney Ross 

Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area – (Forest, Glade, Fen, Creek) “Big Buffalo Creek Conservation Area has one designated natural area, Big Buffalo Creek Fen Natural Area. The fen is a 40-acre portion of the conservation area with natural features that include a small, spring-fed fen, a spring branch and creek, dolomite glades, and forest. Sedges dominate the fen vegetation, and blue flag iris, marsh coneflower, Riddell’s goldenrod, and the rare bushy aster are found here.”

Our first Native Plants at Noon – On the Road was filmed on location at Big Buffalo Creek! Be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

Kill Creek Park – (Prairie, Woodland, Lake) “Nestled within a beautiful natural setting, the 897-acre park has four picnic shelters, swimming beach and marina, over 12 miles of hiking, mountain bike, and equestrian trails, and also includes 1.5 miles of paved, shared use trails for walking, running, and bicycling. The Russell and Helen Means Observation Tower offers magnificent views of the park and beyond!”

If you tuned in for our April broadcast of Lunch & Learn series you may be familiar with Kill Creek Park and the 2023 Art and Natural Resource Residency that Alix Daniel and I completed earlier this year!

Pictured above: Paddy Creek Wilderness (Photo Credit Agnes and Thomas Vojta)

Paddy Creek Wilderness Area – (Forest, Creek) “Big Paddy and Little Paddy Creeks characterize the Paddy Creek Wilderness with steep cliffs and rock outcrops along the drainages. These creeks have water in them throughout most of the year… Black, white, and post oaks, hickories and shortleaf pine are the main trees. Throughout the area, wildlife typical of the Missouri Ozarks is present. White-tailed deer, wild turkey, squirrel, rabbit, fox, coyote, and bobcat”

This is a great family-friendly place to spend the day or camp the entire weekend. Be sure to explore the trails and creeks while you visit!

Paintbrush Prairie Conservation Area – (Prairie) Known for its spring namesake, Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), this remnant prairie puts on quite the show now through the end of summer. It’s located south of Sedalia, MO and boasts 300+ acres of high-quality grassland. Species of conservation concern documented on the prairie include Mead’s Milkweed (Asclepias meadii) and the Regal Fritillary Butterfly (Speyeria idalia). Head out there mid to late July to see the display of biodiversity!