Rocky Prairie

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Rocky Prairie
Balsamorhiza deltoidea at Rocky Prairie, 2019-05-19.jpg
Country: United States of America
State: Washington
County: Thurston
Coordinates: 46° 53' 37.01" N, 122° 52' 13.37" W
(Click to view satellite image in
Google Maps)
Elevation: 71 meters (234 feet)
Time Zone: UTC−07:00 (Daylight Saving Time)
Begins: 2nd Sunday in March at 2 am
Ends: 1st Sunday in November at 2 am
UTC−08:00 (Standard Time)
Begins: 1st Sunday in November at 2 am
Ends: 2nd Sunday in March at 2 am
ZIP CodeTM 98512
Area Code: 360

Rocky Prairie is a prairie that is about 90 kilometers (56 miles) southwest of Seattle, Washington, United States, and about 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Washington's capital city of Olympia. It sits very close to the Millersylvania State Park, the community of Maytown, and the city of Tenino.

Old Highway 99 runs through Rocky Prairie. The part of the prairie west of the highway is called West Rocky Prairie. Both the west and east sides of the prairie have various plant and animal species. Many of the plant species are flowering plants. Both sides also have areas of Mima mounds (not to be confused with the Mima mounds at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve about 10.5 kilometers or 6.5 miles to the west).

Rocky Prairie is divided into several different properties. The two land owners west of Old Highway 99 are the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Port of Tacoma. A major land owner east of Old Highway 99 is the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. There is also another property on the east side owned by Thurston County which has a gravel pit located on it. Some of the prairie on the east side is private property, and has pastures and houses on it.

Photo of Castilleja levisecta (golden paintbrush) at Rocky Prairie. This is listed as an endangered species by the state of Washington, and is listed as threatened by the United States government.

In West Rocky Prairie, the property that belongs to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is called the West Rocky Prairie Wildlife Area. The size of the property is 810 acres (328 hectares).[1][2] Part of the property is wooded, and part of it is in the prairie. The West Rocky Prairie Unit has over 300 acres (120 hectares) of woods, 360 acres (145 hectares) of wetlands, 40 acres (15 hectares) of Quercus garryana (Garry oak trees), and 300 acres (120 hectares) of Mima mounds.[3]

Plant species[edit]

Rocky Prairie plant species
(Click "show" to display table)
Division Class Order Family Genus and species Common name(s)
Pinophyta Pinopsida Pinales Pinaceae Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii

English translation:
False hemlock spruce - Archibald Menzies - variety[4]
Coast Douglas-fir
Pacific Douglas-fir
Douglas Firs Mount Hood National Forest.jpg
Apiales Apiaceae Lomatium triternatum[5]

English translation:
Small border - three leaves[4]
Nineleaf biscuitroot
Lomatium triternatum var. triternatum 4.jpg
Apiales Apiaceae Lomatium utriculatum[5]

English translation:
Small border - inflated[4]
Common lomatium
Spring gold
Lomatium utriculatum 6416.JPG
Asparagales Asparagaceae Camassia quamash[5]

English translation:
Sweet - sweet[4]
Common camas
Common camash
Small camas
Camassia quamash (Pursh) Greene.jpg
Asparagales Iridaceae Sisyrinchium angustifolium[5]

English translation:
Pig snout - narrow leaf[4]
Narrow-leaf blue-eyed-grass
Asterales Asteraceae Achillea millefolium[5]

English translation:
Achilles - thousand leaves[4]
Common yarrow
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).jpg
Asterales Asteraceae Antennaria microphylla[5]

English translation:
Antenna - small leaf[4]
Dwarf everlasting
Littleleaf pussytoes
Pink pussytoes
Rosy pussytoes
Small pussytoes
Antennaria microphylla.jpg
Asterales Asteraceae Balsamorhiza deltoidea[5]

English translation:
Balsam root - triangle shaped[4]
Deltoid balsamroot
Asterales Asteraceae Solidago canadensis[5]

English translation:
Heal (to make well) - Canadian[4]
Canada goldenrod
Canadian goldenrod
Solidago canadensis 20050815 248.jpg
Asterales Asteraceae Solidago spathulata[5]

English translation:
Heal (to make well) - small spathe[4]
Coast goldenrod
Dune goldenrod
Budd's flora of the Canadian Prairie Provinces (1987) (19797746434).jpg
Asterales Campanulaceae Campanula rotundifolia[5]

English translation:
Little bell - round leaf[4]
Campanula rotondifolia.jpg
Asterales Campanulaceae Howellia aquatilis[6] Water howellia
Asterales Asteraceae Erigeron speciosus[5]

English translation:
Early old man - spectacular[4]
Aspen fleabane
Garden fleabane
Showy fleabane
Erigeron speciosus 01.jpg
Asterales Asteraceae Eriophyllum lanatum[5]

English translation:
Woolly leaf - woolly[4]
Common woolly sunflower
Oregon sunshine
Eriophyllum lanatum 3575.JPG
Asterales Asteraceae Microseris laciniata[5]

English translation:
Small lettuce like plant - narrow lobes[4]
Cutleaf silverpuffs
Cut leaf microseris
Microseris lacineata.jpg
Asterales Asteraceae Sericocarpus rigidus[5] Columbian whitetop aster
Sericocarpus rigidus.jpg
Asterales Asteraceae Hieracium albertinum[5] Houndstongue hawkweed
Western hawkweed
Hieracium albertinum.jpg
Caryophyllales Caryophyllaceae Cerastium arvense[5]

English translation:
Horn - farmland[4]
Field chickweed
Cerastium arvense 5618.JPG
Dipsacales Caprifoliaceae Symphoricarpos albus[5]

English translation:
Fruit clusters - white[4]
Common snowberry
Symphoricarpos albus 003.JPG
Ericales Ericaceae Arctostaphylos uva-ursi[5]

English translation:
Bear, bunch of grapes - bear's grape[4]
Pinemat manzanita
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 25924.JPG
Ericales Primulaceae Dodecatheon hendersonii[5]

English translation:
Twelve gods - Louis Forniquet Henderson[4]
Broad-leaved shooting star
Henderson's shooting star
Mosquito bills
Sailor caps
Dodecatheon hendersonii.jpg
Fabales Fabaceae Lupinus albicaulis[5]

English translation:
Wolf - white stems[4]
Sicklekeel lupine
Fabales Fabaceae Lupinus lepidus[5]

English translation:
Wolf - elegant[4]
Dwarf lupine
Pacific lupine
Prairie lupine
Lupinus lepidus 4695.JPG
Fagales Fagaceae Quercus garryana[3]

English translation:
Oak - Nicholas Garry[4]
Garry oak
Oregon oak
Oregon white oak
Lone oak.jpg
Lamiales Lamiaceae Prunella vulgaris[5]

English translation:
Quinsey - common[4]
Blue curls
Carpenter's herb
Common self-heal
Prunella vulgaris - harilik käbihein.jpg
Lamiales Orobanchaceae Castilleja levisecta[5] Golden Indian paintbrush
Golden paintbrush
Castilleja levisecta1.jpg
Liliales Melanthiaceae Toxicoscordion venenosum[5]

English translation:
Toxic garlic - venomous[4]
Death camas
Meadow death camas
Zigadenus venenosus 0116.JPG
Liliales Liliaceae Fritillaria affinis[5]

English translation:
Dice box - similar[4]
Checker lily
Chocolate lily
Fritillaria affinis 000.jpg
Malpighiales Violaceae Viola adunca[5]

English translation:
Violet - hooked[4]
Early blue violet
Hookedspur violet
Sand violet
Western dog violet
Viola adunca 5819.JPG
Poales Juncaceae Luzula campestris[5]

English translation:
Lucciola - plains[4]
Field wood-rush
Good Friday grass
Sweep's brush
Luzula campestris in Wales.JPG
Poales Poaceae Festuca idahoensis[5]

English translation:
Straw - Idaho[4]
Blue hunchgrass
Idaho fescue
Poales Poaceae Danthonia californica[5]

English translation:
Étienne Danthoine - California[4]
California oatgrass
Danthonia californica.jpg
Ranunculales Ranunculaceae Aquilegia formosa[5]

English translation:
Eagles' claw - beautiful[4]
Crimson columbine
Red columbine
Western columbine
Aquilegia formosa 6742.JPG
Ranunculales Ranunculaceae Delphinium nuttallii[5]

English translation:
Dolphin - Thomas Nuttall[4]
Nuttall's larkspur
Delphinium nuttallianum 3707.jpg
Ranunculales Ranunculaceae Ranunculus occidentalis[5]

English translation:
Little frog - western[4]
Western buttercup
Ranunculus occidentalis 39003.JPG
Rosales Rosaceae Malus fusca[7]

English translation:
Apple - dusky[4]
Oregon crabapple
Pacific crabapple
Rosales Rosaceae Potentilla gracilis[5]

English translation:
Potent, small - graceful[4]
Graceful cinquefoil
Slender cinquefoil
Potentilla gracilis 2.jpg
Rosales Rosaceae Rosa pisocarpa[5]

English translation:
Rose - pea-like fruit[4]
Cluster rose
Swamp rose
Rosa pisocarpa 1.jpg
Photographs shown were not necessarily taken at Rocky Prairie, and most likely were not taken there. Photographs of similar types of plants may be substituted if that species/subspecies photo is not available.

Animal species[edit]

Rocky Prairie animal species
(Click "show" to display table)
Phylum Class Order Family Genus and species Common name(s)
Arthropoda Insecta Hymenoptera Apidae Bombus californicus[8] California bumble bee
Kuzinia on Bombus californicus BMOC 15-0515-073.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Euphyes propertius[6] Propertius duskywing
Erynnis propertius (Propertius Duskywing) (7437712788).jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Euphyes vestris[6] Dun sedge skipper
Dun skipper
Sedge witch
Dun Skipper.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Hesperia comma[6] Common branded skipper
Holarctic grass skipper
Silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Hesperia comma) female.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Hesperia juba[6] Jagged-border skipper
Juba skipper
Yuba skipper
Hesperia juba 1374466.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Ochlodes sylvanoides ssp. orecoastus[6] Coastal woodland skipper
Ochlodes sylvanoides.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Polites mardon[6] Mardon skipper
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Hesperiidae Polites sonora[6] Sonoran skipper
Western long dash
Male Tawny-edged Skipper, Megan McCarty68.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Lycaenidae Icaricia icarioides ssp. blackmorei[6] Puget blue
Fenders blue butterfly Oregon.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Nymphalidae Euphydryas editha ssp. taylori[6] Taylor's checkerspot
Whulge checkerspot
Euphydryas editha taylori.jpg
Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Nymphalidae Speyeria zerene ssp. bremnerii[6] Valley silverspot
Speyeria zerene 16835.JPG
Chordata Amphibia Anura Ranidae Rana pretiosa[9] Oregon spotted frog
Chordata Aves Anseriformes Anatidae Branta canadensis Canada goose
Canada goose on Seedskadee NWR (27826185489).jpg
Chordata Aves Accipitriformes Accipitridae Haliaeetus leucocephalus[6] Bald eagle
About to Launch (26075320352).jpg
Chordata Aves Passeriformes Turdidae Turdus migratorius American robin
Chordata Mammalia Artiodactyla Cervidae Odocoileus hemionus ssp. columbianus Columbian black-tailed deer
Odocoileus hemionus 5932.JPG
Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Geomyidae Thomomys mazama ssp. tumuli[10] Tenino pocket gopher
Mazama pocket gopher.jpg
Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Sciuridae Tamiasciurus douglasii Douglas squirrel
Douglas Squirrel DSC3742vvc.jpg
Photographs shown in animal species chart were not necessarily taken at Rocky Prairie, and most likely were not taken there. Photographs of similar types of animals may be substituted if that species/subspecies photo is not available.


The closest weather station to Rocky Prairie with a long period of record collection is at the Olympia Regional Airport in Tumwater, a suburb of Olympia. Under the Köppen climate classification system, the climate of the Olympia area is classified as Csb.[11] The C means that it is a temperate climate, meaning that the winters are chilly to mild. The s means that it is a Mediterranean climate, meaning that the summers are dry. The b means that the summers are warm but not hot. This type of climate is also called a warm-summer Mediterranean climate. In this type of climate, the winters are rainy. The area south of Olympia is in hardiness zone 8A.

Climate data for the Olympia Regional Airport (metric units)
Averages are for the most recent 50 year period as of 2019, 1969-2018
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C 7.4 9.6 12.2 15.0 18.8 21.7 25.2 25.4 22.1 15.9 10.2 7.0 15.9
Average mean °C 3.8 4.9 6.8 8.8 12.2 15.0 17.6 17.7 14.8 10.1 6.1 3.5 10.1
Average low °C 0.1 0.2 1.3 2.7 5.6 8.3 10.0 10.0 7.5 4.3 2.0 0.1 4.4
Precipitation (cm) 19.51 13.79 13.80 8.98 5.75 4.07 1.57 2.75 5.54 11.82 21.37 19.39 128.34
Source for data to create chart: NOAA - National Centers for Environmental Information
Climate data for the Olympia Regional Airport (standard units)
Averages are for the most recent 50 year period as of 2019, 1969-2018
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F 45.3 49.3 54.0 59.0 65.9 71.0 77.3 77.8 71.8 60.5 50.4 44.6 60.6
Average mean °F 38.8 40.8 44.2 47.9 54.0 59.0 63.7 63.9 58.7 50.2 43.0 38.4 50.2
Average low °F 32.2 32.4 34.4 36.8 42.0 47.0 50.0 50.0 45.6 39.8 35.5 32.1 39.9
Precipitation (inches) 7.68 5.43 5.43 3.54 2.26 1.60 0.62 1.08 2.18 4.66 8.41 7.63 50.53
Source for data to create chart: NOAA - National Centers for Environmental Information

Early history[edit]

An artist's conception of what it may have looked like standing near the glacier during the Vashon Glaciation

Rocky Prairie and the other local prairies were formed around 17,000 BP (before present) during the Vashon Glaciation. The Vashon Glaciation was the time period in which the Cordilleran Ice Sheet extended south of the present-day US–Canadian border into Western Washington. The Vashon Glaciation was part of the Fraser Glaciation (the ice that had pushed through the Fraser River basin in British Columbia). This occurred during the Wisconsin Glaciation, the time period when ice sheets covered much of Canada and the northern United States. The Wisconsin Glaciation occurred during the last glacial period, a time when the Earth was more glaciated. This was the most recent glaciation of the Pleistocene Ice Age (the current ice age). The Pleistocene Ice Age is part of an even longer ice age called the Late Cenozoic Ice Age, which began 33.9 million BP with the formation of the Antarctic Ice Cap and continues to present day.

The Mima mounds at Rocky Prairie. Mima mounds are a feature left behind by the glacier. They can also be found on some of the other nearby prairies.

During the Vashon Glaciation, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet covered parts of Alaska and Canada. The portion that extended south of the Canadian border is called the Puget Lobe. Rocky Prairie was almost at the edge of where the glacier stopped, and was only under ice for a short period of time.

Pollen data collected from Battleground Lake (a lake about 123 kilometers/77 miles to the southeast of Rocky Prairie) show that from 20,000 - 16,000 BP, annual temperatures in the area were about 6 ± 1 °C (10.8 ± 1.8 °F) colder than in present times (present times as of 1990).[12] Annual precipitation was around 1 meter (39 inches) less[12], meaning that precipitation was only about 24.5% of what it is in present times (present times as of 1990). At the glacier's edge, the wall of ice was around 200 meters (660 feet) high.[13]

As the glaciers melted, they left behind sand and gravel. The sand and gravel drains water making the soils dry, particularly in the summer. Many of the plants that grew on these prairies were used as food or medicine by the early inhabitants. With the eventual encroachment of forest, the early inhabitants had to burn the prairies in order to maintain them. The practice went on for millennia, and is still continued today by conservation organizations. In current times, burning is also a way of controlling invasive non-native species.

Recent history[edit]

With the arrival of European settlers in the mid-1800s, new immigrants introduced plant species from where they came from so they could feel more at home. Many of these plants reproduced quickly, took over, and began replacing native species. A very problematic species on prairie lands in Thurston County is Cytisus scoparius (Scotch broom). Non-native grasses have also been a problem. Most of the grass on the prairies is non-native.

Thurston County has seen explosive growth since the 1970s, and the trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Between 1970 and 2010, the population density of Thurston County grew from just 41.1 persons/km2 (106.5 persons/mi2) to 134.9 persons/km2 (349.4 persons/mi2). The average rate of growth during those years was 2.3 person/km2 (6.1 persons/mi2) per year, which is 4.3 times the global average on land.

The explosive growth is causing prairie and other natural lands to quickly shrink.

Proposed development[edit]

The Port of Tacoma owns a property on West Rocky Prairie that borders on the West Rocky Prairie Unit (the state owned property). The size of the property is 746.56 acres (302.12 hectares).[14]

On July 17, 2006, the Port of Olympia and the Port of Tacoma made an agreement to build a railway logistics center.[15] The next day, the Port of Tacoma purchased the property at Rocky Prairie from Citifor, Inc. for a price of over US$21 million (about $70,000 per hectare or $28,000 per acre).[15] Later that year, local groups got together to block the proposal.[15]

In 2008, there were several meetings with the public in which the Thurston County commissioners and representatives from the ports were present. Many citizens had the opportunity to speak in front of the public and voice their opinion about the proposal. Almost everyone that spoke was opposed to the proposal. On June 30, 2008, the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Olympia dropped the proposal to put in the logistics center.[15]

The Port of Tacoma decided to sell the property.[15] In April 2010, a developer from southern California made a down payment on the property.[15] They formed a company called Maytown Sand and Gravel, LLC.[15] After about a year, the property went back to the Port of Tacoma.[15] The company had defaulted on their loan.[15]

In 2019, the Port of Tacoma is selling the property to NorthPoint Development, LLC, a development company centered in Riverside, Missouri for a price of $24 million (about $79,000 per hectare or $32,000 per acre).[16] The company is trying to get Thurston County to change the zoning of the property to industrial.[9]

The current proposal is to have a logistics center on West Rocky Prairie.[17] There would be six million square feet of warehouses (which is about 56 hectares or 138 acres).[17][9] There would be a massive increase in truck and freight train traffic,[17] and numerous negative secondary environmental impacts.


  1. ^ "Wildlife Areas | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife". Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  2. ^ Black Hills Audubon Society - West Rocky Prairie 2016
  3. ^ a b "West Rocky Prairie". Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah "Welcome to Botanary, the Botanical Dictionary". Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah Davenport, Roberta. "Rocky Prairie Restoration and Native Plant Propagation Project" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition - West Rocky Prairie
  7. ^ Old Orchard? (read guidelines before searching)
  8. ^ Westside Prairie - Recovery Plan for Castilleja levisecta
  9. ^ a b c Black Hills Audubon Society - South Thurston County Threatened By Huge Industrial Development
  10. ^ National Archives - Federal Register - Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Mazama Pocket Gophers
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Whitlock, Cathy (1992). "Vegetational and Climatic History of the Pacific Northwest during the Last 20,000 Years: Implications for Understanding Present-day Biodiversity" (PDF). The Northwest Environmental Journal. 8 (5). OCLC 11193852. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  13. ^ Porter, Stephen C.; Swanson, Terry W. (April 20, 1998). "Radiocarbon Age Constraints on Rates of Advance and Retreat of the Puget Lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet during the Last Glaciation" (PDF). Quaternary Research. 50 (3): 205. Bibcode:1998QuRes..50..205P. CiteSeerX doi:10.1006/qres.1998.2004. OCLC 960783893. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  14. ^ Thurston County Assessor's Office - A+ Parcel Look-Up System
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Friends of Rocky Prairie - History
  16. ^ Friends of Rocky Prairie - Action Alert
  17. ^ a b c Friends of Rocky Prairie Homepage