Discover botanist John Pierce throughout the growing season pulling weeds from among the native plants of the prairie, as he has been doing since 1991. Hardly a knapweed or leafy spurge remains to challenge him, but the prolific little bulbous wheatgrass and cheatgrass keep him busy. Note that it's a good year for cheatgrass and John counters that every year is a good year for cheatgrass. Annuals intend to reseed themselves.
Subtler lessons await your discovery. Low growing native plants suggest groundcovers for areas which warrant tidy vistas or minimal potential fuel for wildfires. Imagine a mini prairie made up of varieties of low profile native plants. Most of the parent plants for this prairie came from salvage. John and other volunteers rescued the doomed plants and conserved them here whenever builders developed city lots.
The Clark Fork Native Prairie also takes you to the future of Missoula's open land, if locals choose to preserve Pierce's legacy. If, however, a future city council decides to water and mow the prairie, it would disappear nearly instantly. Bunch grasses are not rhizomous like exotic lawn grasses. They don't flourish from mowing. That's how we killed them off originally, by overgrazing the lands with living livestock mowers.
Not to mention "development." Train tracks used to run through this section of the Riverfront Park. Man's "improvements" replaced native species with "exotic" grasses and plants that crowd out Montana's natural species. Pierce's vision to recreate the native prairie kindles hope for Montana's future. His demonstration project offers more than a beautiful time-and-nature escape within the city.
Get in touch with Montana's designated nature symbols here:
Wander into the park off the dead end section of Third Street east of Higgins Avenue for a little inspiration and aroma therapy among silvery sage brushes and fluffy flowering grasses.