Kachina Prairie: a Local Treasure
Kitty Smith, Certified Master Naturalist
The Kachina Prairie, located in Ennis, Texas on the east shore of Lake Clark, is a rare, 30-acre patch of undisturbed native prairie. It represents one of a precious few remaining remnants of Blackland Prairie in Texas. The site has served as a center for research, a wildflower preserve, and a successful example of grassland restoration.
The Blackland Prairies were defined by deep, fertile, black alkaline clay soils often referred to as “black gumbo”. These soils supported a rich growth of wildflowers and native grasses including bluestems, Indiangrass, sideoats grama and switchgrass, some of which grew taller than 10 feet. Some of the root systems of these grasses reached down 15 feet or more and made them very drought tolerant. Typically fires burned through about every seven years allowing regeneration of the prairies and preventing trees from taking over. The prairies were so expansive the most common comparison upon seeing them was to the ocean. Today farmland, pastures and cities have reduced the Blackland Prairie to less than .05% of its original size. Fortunately, we have examples like Kachina Prairie to remind us of what the original tall-grass prairies looked like.
The Kachina Prairie was apparently the original attraction of the Bluebonnet Trails in Ennis in the 1950’s and 60’s. The City of Ennis recognized its value and established it as a city park in 1966. In what was perhaps a series of natural changes, there were fewer bluebonnets and more of other wildflower species, leading the city to designate it as a wildflower preserve in 1971. Stewardship of the prairie was given to Texas Land Conservancy (TLC) in 1985. In the 1990s, a series of prescribed burns were used to control invasive species, simulating the wildfires and subsequent regeneration that would naturally occur, but none has been done recently. Today, many trees and non-native invasive plants have taken root in the prairie.
When a small group of Indian Trail Master Naturalists (ITMN) made a site visit last June, we found no walking trails and significant growth of invasive species at the entrance of the prairie. It was tough going to get very far. We found some nice-looking native grasses and wildflowers but did not try to inventory them due to lack of a trail. The clear threats to the prairie have energized our little group into modest action.
A sign at the prairie lists several groups with an interest, including TLC and the Ennis Garden Club (EGC). We’ve been in touch with both groups. One of TLC’s stewardship managers has offered to do a new land management plan for the prairie and, working with the City of Ennis, ITMN and the EGC, has scheduled a work day to remove invasive trees on April 20th. All four groups are also working together on a plan to once again conduct a prescribed burn to rid the prairie of invasive species and revitalize native grasses. ITMN will partner with these organizations on the prairie’s conservation and hopes to set regular work days to inventory existing plants, with the guidance of TLC and support from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT). As a pristine example of native blackland prairie, the Kachina Prairie is a treasure worth our time and energy to preserve. Continued conservation of this remnant prairie will only be the result of action by the concerned and involved citizens of Ennis and Ellis County.
Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends? You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX. For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website: https://txmn.org/indiantrail/.