Homestead National Monument

Tallgrass ecosystem
Tallgrass prairie is a complex ecosystem, including flowers, trees, birds, mammals, insects and microorganisms, but dominated by grass. Tallgrass prairie is so-named because the component grasses- big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass and switchgrass- can reach 8 feet or more in height.

The eye sees only half the prairie; the other half is underground. Roots several feet deep tap moisture in times of drought, and store energy which can produce new growth. These roots help ensure that the plant will survive weather extremes, mowing, grazing and fire.

Once this tallgrass prairie covered millions of acres, now only isolated remnants exist. By most estimates less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie of North America remains as a result of its conversion to agriculture and other human uses. Begun in 1939, Homestead National Monument of America has the second oldest prairie restoration in the nation. 


Physical features
In 1936, Congress set aside the 100 acres of formerly abused pasture and cropland and 60 acres of woodland as a permanant monument to the homesteading era. Physical features of the site are dominated by Cub Creek, and major tributary to the Big Blue River, and its adjacent bottomlands. The balance of the site is made up of moderately steep glacial till with eroded sandy and gravelly side slopes.


Restoration methods
The goal of restoring the landscape to approximate the original conditions encountered by Daniel Freeman has been evident from the first management plan written by Wildlife Technician Adoph Murie circa 1938. Murie described two possible restoration methods; one was transplanting sod from a local prairie, and the second was seeding. He realized the advantages of sodding by stating "...not only is prairie grass brought into the area, but also native species of prairie herbs."


Early management
When the site was acquired by the National Park Service, severe erosion had occured on the upland slopes, heavy depositions of silt were on the lower slopes, and the woodlands were cutover and heavily grazed. At least 40 acres of the site were under cultivation as late as November 1939. Management during the early years centered around stabilizing the severely abused soil and protecting newly planted native grasses. 

Park records indicate that the first seeding took place in 1939 with seed gathered from a prairie located approximately 5 miles to the west. The approximate seed mixture was 45% big bluestem, 50% little bluestem, and 1% each of Kentucky bluegrass, needleandthread, indiangrass, prairie dropseed and sideoats grama. The first sodding was also carried out in 1939 to control severe sheet, rill, and gully erosion on the coarse-textured south upland slopes. Source of the sod is unknown.

Chronological history of management
at Homestead National Monument 
between 1942 and 1986
  Adapted from Prairie Restoration/Management at Homestead: A History by James Stubbendieck and Gary D. Wilson