The May Prairie Natural Area, south of Manchester, is home to a wide range of floral, wood and grass species and a small wetland that drains across the acreage (staff photos by John Coffelt).
Hiding almost – on the Hillsboro Highway near the under-construction Coffee County Jail – is May Prairie Natural Area, a 346-acre wildlife statuary, complete with a one-mile loop trail that as the area near the new jail continues to develop, is set to become a quick lunch-time stop for outdoor enthusiasts.
If you’re like me, you have missed the area, tucked away behind the LKQ used auto parts facility. That is until a map search revealed an unexplored natural area just waiting to be found.
May Prairie Natural Area has the same designation as the Short Springs Natural Area near Tullahoma. The area is home to a diverse plant population. It is an addition to the 1,000-acre Hickory Flat Wood Wil
dlife Management Area, located to the north, across Asbury Rd.
According to UT Extension Agent Lindsay White’s photographic examination, this tree appears to have been “infected with a disease known as the hypoxylon canker, a fungus that contributes to the premature death of trees stressed by drought, construction damage or other problems.” A closer examination of the tree would reveal what looks like charred wood exposed below the bark.
Parking for May Prairie is off of Asbury Rd. in a small graveled lot that also serves as a power line easement access.
The trailhead opens south into an easy trail through flat, open terrain bounded by light cover.
The trail, despite its age, is well kept and clearly marked with traditional white blazes. According to the map, the trail forks into a loop at about 400-600 yards in, but in the field, the fork appears more of a crossroad.
Continuing south the trail becomes an old four-wheeler path that crosses a Prairie tributary that drains from the wetlands just to the east of the plat, and continues to the edge of the prairie.
To the east (or left if Asbury Rd. is to your back) the trail heads towards the wetlands but is choked with thick undergrowth, before it turns sharply southwest, in a series of doglegs to connect back to the more open trail at the prairie.
From the split a false trail leads west, back in the direction of the highway along the preserve’s former boundary line.
According to the state, the area was founded in 1973, but according to property records the area saw two major additions in the 1990s.
The original deed for property 64.04, an 80-acre lot was obtained in 1975. It is designated with original signage.
Lots 15.01, recorded as 210-acres, and 3.11, 58 ½-acres, were added in 1995 and 1991. The total deeded acreage comes to 348.
According to state documents, the area is home to 300 plant species. Twenty-five of which are rare.
“[May Prarie] supports disjunct plants known from the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains including the only state location for both the snowy orchid and the coastal false-asphodel.”
The source adds that in the spring, “displays of orange, blue and white color as Indian paintbrush, false indigo, and bluets appear in full bloom. In late summer many species of sunflower are common with the rare southern dock and two species of blazing star prominently flowering.”
Restoration goals for the area are a restored hydrology of the areas that have been drained for agriculture and controlling the encroachment of woody vegetation.
May Prairie is recognized by the Department of the Interior as a National Natural Landmark.