Wildflower Walk: Preserving the prairie

Visitors of Sunday’s Konza Prairie Wildflower Walk reference their flower guide, provided by the nonprofit Friends of the Konza Prairie. The event opened up access to Butterfly Hill - a trail in the Konza Prairie Biological station that’s not typically open to the public. (Photo Courtesy of Erin Poppe)

With summer almost in full swing, the Konza Prairie Biological Station hosted its annual Wildflower Walk on June 4.

“Preparation for the Wildflower Walk takes many forms,” Jill Haukos, director of education for the Konza Prairie Environmental Program, said. “The docent guides work for years to know and identify the wildflowers proficiently, so their efforts are certainly appreciated.”

The Wildflower Walk is an annual fundraising event for the Konza Environmental Education Program (KEEP). Donna McCullum, president of the Friends of the Konza Prairie, said the program aims to educate young students about the prairie while allowing them to participate in hands-on research.

“We are here to provide a site for ecological researchers to study how a healthy prairie reacts to climate, fire and grazing,” Haukos said. “In addition to research, our job is to share our information with the public. The Wildflower Walk is one of the avenues for accomplishing this.”

The event was held along the Butterfly Trail, which is not open to the public throughout the year.

During the Wildflower Walk, visitors were educated about the importance of the Konza Prairie. Participants learned about the different types of flowers, grasses and natural environmental factors that impact the prairie.

“I think this is a very special time on the tallgrass prairie,” Haukos said. “The end of May and the beginning of June. It is at this time that the wildflowers are really resplendent in their colors, diversity and bloom quality.”

The event not only promoted the Konza Prairie’s natural environment but also the necessity to conserve its natural resources.

“We want to preserve the prairie and make the public understand why it is so important to preserve the prairie,” McCullum said. “We have about 150 experiments going on from all over the world.”

The Konza Prairie is a place for everyone, whether it is intended for exploring, learning or appreciating.

“I think the Konza gives everyone an outlet to feel different than the ordinary,” Arnoldo Ruiz, senior in social work and attendee of the Wildflower Walk, said. “I think the coolest part about the Wildflower Walk was seeing a side of the Konza that people do not often get to see and seeing how so many different people shared the experience. It is awesome how the walk had the power to bring people together.”

The Wildflower Walk allowed visitors to further understand and appreciate the natural beauty of the Konza Prairie.

“I most enjoy when a visitor ‘connects’ for the first time with the prairie,” Haukos said. “[I enjoy] when their eyes light up as the realization hits them the prairie is an amazingly beautiful place and it is their ecosystem — a sense of pride and ownership has been established between the visitor and the prairie.”

Haukos said that more than 96 percent of tallgrass prairies have been converted for other uses, such as home developments and agricultural fields. The Konza Prairie remains unmanipulated.

“We’re extremely lucky to have the tallgrass prairie near our community,” Haukos said. “We appreciate all that folks do to help us get the word out about the need to understand, manage and conserve the prairie. That includes the university, school children and the residents of the Flint Hills.”