2017-07-27 / Front Page

Natural prairie found at Kettle Creek battlefield

By JOE HARRIS


Dr. Joe Harris and Dr. David Noble, Heather Alley, and Walker Chewning prepare for a brief study of the small Piedmont Prairie of the Kettle Creek Battlefield. Dr. Joe Harris and Dr. David Noble, Heather Alley, and Walker Chewning prepare for a brief study of the small Piedmont Prairie of the Kettle Creek Battlefield. In Georgia, conditions in several counties have resulted in small natural prairies, sometimes called pocket prairies. According to Linda Chafin of the Georgia Botanical Gardens, they were not always small.

“In the 1760s botanist William Bartram, then in his late 20s, described several sites north of Augusta in Cherokee Territory. He said these were ‘…expansive plains, detached groves, chains of hills with dry barren summits,’” Chafin recently reported. Some of these were maintained as grassland due to Cherokee and Creek practices of using fire to rout animals for hunting.

Chafin found one of these sites in her 2015 plant inventory of the original 12-acre Kettle Creek battle area, purchased by the Kettle Creek DAR Chapter in 1900. She observed that basically, “piedmont prairies are supported by high magnesium and iron rock which weathers to form dense clay soils fostering grassland and discouraging trees. Amphibolite, is the most common such rock in the Georgia Piedmont.” Grassland habitats support populations of rabbits, voles, and woodchucks which also negatively affect seedling and young tree growth. “This helps maintain the grassland ecosystem,” Chafin said.

A recent review of the Kettle Creek Battlefield prairie site by Restoration Ecologist Heather Alley of the Georgia Botanical Garden resulted in recommendations for return of the small acreage to its natural state, likely to that of the times of the Cherokees. Alley met with Dr. David Noble who initiated the meeting, KCBA President Walker Chewning, and KCBA Board Chairman Joe Harris. They toured the Liberty Church and Hammett Ridges of the battlefield then stopped for study at a relatively grassy area on the southwest side of War Hill Ridge and near Kelley Branch. This grassy area had been identified by Chafin as an example of a Georgia Piedmont Prairie.

Upon exploring the area and discovery of false aloe with conspicuous flower buds, Alley exclaimed, “That’s a signature species.” She said that it might produce up to 60 flowers on a two-foot single, leafless stem. “These are very attractive to moths which find the sweet, fruity fragrance at night,” she said. Satisfied with the prairie designation, Alley took many notes, then toured the War Hill area with Noble and Chewning. Discussion continued through lunch. Alley’s suggestions were released a few days later.

Toward natural restoration, Alley recommended removing invasive species like mimosa, privet, Sericea lespedesa and all pines less than ten inches in diameter at breast height. Roundup spot treatment could be used on subsequent invasion by non-prairie species.

“With this work, you’ll have one of the few extant Piedmont Prairies in Georgia,” Chafin said. “It will attract a surprising number of visitors, especially since such a natural open area will offer a viewpoint of the course of troops during the battle.”

She mentioned Burk’s Mountain in Columbia County, Panola Mountain State Park and Pickett’s Mill Civil War Battlefield State Historic Site as frequently visited prairie sites. The battlefield association will be working on this.

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