Points of Interest:
- Enjoy spectacular fall colors in the heart of the Kansas City area.
- View a small slice of what the north Kansas City area looked like before the city was platted.
- See and hear migrating songbirds in the spring.
- Enjoy the cool shade of the old-growth forest canopy in summer right in an urban area.
Although surrounded by the City of Gladstone and the greater Kansas City metro area, Maple Woods is a reminder of the wildlands that once dominated this area just 200 years ago. This old-growth forest is a National Natural Landmark and contains impressive black maple (a variety of sugar maple), northern red, white and bur oaks; bitternut and shagbark hickory, red elm, basswood, black walnut, and white ash.
Because of the abundance of sugar maples the fall colors are typically outstanding. However, because sugar maples create such dense shade, as the larger oaks in this stand eventually die off this forest will eventually become dominated by just shade-tolerant trees including maples, bitternut hickory, red elm, and basswood. Oaks require more sun on the forest floor for regeneration. Pawpaws are abundant in the forest’s understory. These small trees are relatives of tropical trees that produce fruits such as the cherimoya. The pawpaw is the largest tree fruit native to the U.S. The ripe fruits can be eaten or used in making a custard or pie-filling, but some people are allergic to this fruit.
In the spring time look for ephemeral spring wildflowers here such as Solomon’s seal, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and bellwort. These wildflowers bloom and set seed before the tree canopy fully leaves out. They capitalize on the abundant sunshine on the forest floor in early spring. By mid-summer these wildflowers have died back and are no longer visible in the dark shade of the mesic forest. Look for downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, and the northern flicker in the winter. During spring migration keep a lookout for thrushes and warblers.
This remnant forest was almost turned into a residential development and shopping mall back in the early 1970s. Thankfully a coalition of local citizens and The Nature Conservancy worked to acquire this site. Then in 1978 the Missouri Department of Conservation purchased the site using funds from the recently approved “conservation sales tax.” Today the City of Gladstone manages the property under a lease with the Conservation Department.
There are a number of small natural areas and other natural community remnants in the Kansas City metro area to explore. For more information on exploring these sites consider acquiring the book Kansas City Wildlands by Larry Rizzo (2001, published by the Missouri Department of Conservation) Volunteers are needed to work on restoring and maintaining these biological gems such as Maple Woods within the Kansas City area. Contact the Kansas City Wildlands organization (https://bridgingthegap.org/kansas-city-wildlands/) to volunteer to help restore these special places.