When settlers first arrived in the Georgia piedmont, they crossed a variety of landscapes: forests, wetlands, and prairies. Though the forests and wetlands remain, the piedmont prairie is almost a forgotten scene. Piedmont prairies are grassy areas scattered between forests, usually occupying about 20- 50 acres. They are havens for wildlife, proving food and cover for animals such as quail, deer, turkey, and many species of songbirds. These prairies are different from their Midwestern counterparts because trees are scattered throughout the grass-covered landscape.
Over time, most piedmont prairies have been destroyed as a result of habitat changes and the introduction of exotic plants. In the past, frequent wildfires and grazing animals like bison and deer helped prevent large woody species from growing and blocking sunlight needed for many prairie grasses and flowers to grow. The suppression of fire and displacement of the large grazers has fundamentally altered the landscape. In an attempt to save these valuable areas, restoration efforts are occurring throughout the Southeast. The piedmont prairie at Sandy Creek Nature Center was created to provide a varied habitat and to offer educational experiences.
When you visit the nature center, look to your right as you pull into the Education & Visitor Center parking area. The quarter-acre site is in its beginning stages, but already changes are visible. Below is a timeline of our developing prairie:
Initially, all pine saplings were removed, and the plot was mowed at the lowest setting.
On December 18, 2004, volunteers from the Native Plant Society sowed the first set of native grasses: Bluestem species (big, little, and split-beard), Indian grass, Panic grass, Purple top, Gamma grass, Spike grass and Plume grass. The eventual goal is to maintain the prairie vegetation as 80% native grasses and 20% wildflowers.
In December 2005, more grasses were planted in clusters throughout the area. Two sourwood tree saplings were also added to the area, since piedmont prairies did have a few trees.
On March 4, 2006, the prairie underwent its first controlled burn. This replicates the natural fires that occurred before fire suppression was prevalent and helps to reduce competition from non-native species. It will also heat the seedbed, encouraging growth of our warm-season grasses. These burns have been repeated every 1- 2 years.