Advanced Pursuit - Native Prairie Restoration at SunWatch

Native Prairie Restoration at SunWatch

Since 1984 approximately four acres of the property around the Heilman-Kettering Interpretive Center at SunWatch have been restored to a native prairie state so our visitors can experience native vegetation as it existed about 800 years ago when the Village was inhabited.

SunWatch prairieArchaeological and geological evidence suggests that a prairie existed in this area before the land was converted to agriculture, as documented by an 1800 survey. The soil type suggests the earlier existence of a prairie. Excavations revealed the remains of animals that thrive in open areas, plant seeds typical of the same areas, a mud imprint of large-stemmed grass used in wall construction, and the mud imprint of thatching on a mud dauber’s nest (wasps still nest in reconstructed thatched roofs today). A remnant prairie that was never destroyed still exists about 1¼ miles from SunWatch.

A prairie is a grassland composed of grasses and forbs (wildflowers) that grow and bloom during the hot days of summer. The prairie at SunWatch can be described as a tallgrass mesic prairie. The grass grows from 3 to 8 feet in height and receives and retains a medium amount of moisture (as opposed to a wet or dry prairie). During an extended dry period thousands of years ago, prairies expanded into what is now Ohio from the west. When wetter periods followed, only small openings were preserved as trees encroached upon the grasslands from all sides.

The viability of a prairie is determined by geology, soil, climate and seed stock. Prairie plants are adapted to drought and fire, having deep root systems from 6-10 feet deep. Grasses have thin leaves that reduce exposure to full summer sunlight, while many forbs have hairy stems that reflect sunlight, thick leaves and stems that store water, or leaves that align with the direction of sun or curl under to avoid heat.


The front prairie flanks the parking lot on three sides. Signs identifying many of the prairie plants can be found along the walk to the building’s front door. Mown paths accessible from the parking lot and picnic shelter encircle the front prairie along the tree lines to the west and north.

Signs are also present along the back ramp leading down to the restored Village, where a mix of native and non-native vegetation is found. In addition, there is a small prairie grass garden and a native forb garden with signs along the east side of the native vegetable garden. Small areas of prairie have been planted near the stockade as well. These locations can be visited before or after touring the Village.