Kah Tai Prairie Preserve Port Townsend, Washington
Kah Tai Prairie photographed by Dixie Llewellin.
The Kah Tai Valley, between the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Port Townsend Bay once consisted of open prairies and estuaries. Development quickly transformed this landscape; however, due to benign neglect of a small area within Port Townsend Golf Course, a colorful relic of the last ice age still remains. From the words of a native son of Port Townsend pioneers, James McCurdy, the valley once was a botanical delight. "Myriads of wild flowers transformed the valley floor into a many-hued carpet."
The remnant 1.4 acre prairie has been the focus of preservation and restoration by Olympic Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society since it was recognized as unique botanical site in 1986. The Kah Tai Preserve was created in 1987 and over 90 different species were identified, 27 represent prairie indicator species.
With years of work from dedicated volunteers, the prairie is a stunning sight in the spring, starting with the early blooming Grass widows (Olsynium douglasii) progressing seasonally to the fields of brilliant blue Camas (Camassia quamash). The blue palette of the Camas is mixed with white, yellow, and pink from the Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis), Pomo celery (Lomatium utriculatum), Old mans whiskers (Geum triflorum), and Death camas (Zygadenus venenosus). The heat of summer brings out the Dwarf goldenrod (Solidago spathulata) and Showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosus).
Regular work parties have focused on stabilizing prairie plant communities and diligently battling the ever-present weeds. Although the native rose and snowberry shrubs are thriving at the prairie the goal is to promote herbaceous prairie species. To this end the prairie has been mowed regularly in the fall and selectively burned in 2000 and in 2008 with help from the Nature Conservancy, the City of Port Townsend, and the Port Townsend Fire Department. The following growing season after burning has yielded the immediate reward of a spectacular bloom. Other prairie preservation projects include seed collecting from the site and growing plants in the nursery for re-introduction to disturbed areas of the prairie.
Research projects at the Kah Tai Prairie Preserve include the planting of Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), in 2004. Seeds from this plant, which is on the federally endangered plant species list, were collected from the last 11 known sites. Kah Tai Prairie is the nearest location with a similar habitat to these remaining populations. The surviving Golden paintbrush are monitored annually to determine the success rate with findings recorded in the database of Washington Natural Heritage Program: Rare Plants. The prairie was one site for a research project to determine the genetic distribution of camas by early people since camas was one of their main food sources. Many college groups and school groups have visited the prairie as part of restoration and educational programs.