At Mile Marker 32 near the Bolivar end of the Frisco Highline Trail, the route passes through La Petite Gemme Prairie, the only publicly-owned virgin prairie in Polk County. Native tallgrass prairie once covered nearly a third of Missouri. Now, less than one-half of one percent remains. This remnant of our state’s natural heritage is indeed a rare jewel!
The 37-acre area is located two miles south and one mile west of Bolivar on a gravel road off of U.S. 13. It was purchased by the nonprofit Missouri Prairie Foundation and designated June 21, 1977. It is now managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
A botanically diverse and scenic upland prairie on soils derived from shale and limestone, La Petite Gemme is a beautiful spot to relax and wander in. The name is French for "the little gem" and recognizes the French influence on Missouri as well as the gemlike quality of the prairie wildflowers. For further information and a brochure of the site contact the Wildlife District Supervisor, Southwest District Office, 2630 N. Mayfair, Springfield, MO 65803, phone 417/895-6880.
La Petite Gemme Prairie, as the name implies, is one of nature's little gems. The name recognizes the French who governed this land for a century. And, like a gem, the prairie sparkles with flowers. In their season, flowers of western and sawtooth sunflowers, white and New England asters, shooting stars, blue sage, gay feather, butterfly milkweed and compass plant add color to the prairie and attract numerous interesting butterflies and other insects. Pomme de Prairie (the Indian's wild potato) and prairie mimosa are two other interesting and rather uncommon plants which can be found there.
Henslow's sparrow, upland sandpiper and the beautiful scissor-tailed flycatcher are some of the birds which call this prairie home. They share this spot with coyotes, rabbits, legless lizards (the so-called glass snake) and ornate box turtles.
But it is the tall grasses of the prairie which give it its special character; Indian grass, big bluestem, switch grass and others wave in the wind to make this a grassland sea. The prairie grasses are adapted to our hot Missouri summers. And hidden away beneath the grass are nine species of mosses.
La Petite Gemme is a remnant of what was once a much larger prairie known historically as Three Mound Prairie.
This expanse of grass occurred as an island in the oak-hickory forest of the Ozark border. In 1855, Ezekial M. Campbell, a Mexican War veteran, laid claim to the land under a "swamp land patent." In 1884, the Springfield and Northern Railroad built its tracks on the west side of the property. Through several generations spanning 80 years, the Campbell heirs held this property and used it as a hay meadow until 1974 when they sold it to the Missouri Prairie Foundation. This private organization, dedicated to the preservation of true prairie in Missouri, was able to purchase the property with the help of a loan from Ralph and Virginia Lucas of Branson. Today the property is managed under a lease agreement by the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Wildfires have always playes a role in the maintenance of the prairie. These fires probably occured most frequently during summer and fall. Today the Conservation Department manages the prairie with controlled burning, haying and resting on a rotation basis. Prescribed burning in the spring helps control cool-season adapted plants that are not native to the prairie.
The Frisco Highline Trail is jointly administered by Ozark Greenways, a non-profit trails and greenspace organization, and the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
P.O. Box 50733
Springfield, MO 65805