A 77-acre stretch of land northeast of Dysart began a transformation Friday, May 18. The Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa will begin restoring the land to prairie – Iowa’s native ecosystem. This new prairie, the Irvine Prairie, was made possible through a gift from Cathy Irvine.
“Cathy and her late husband, David, shared a passion for conservationism,” said Mark Nook, president of the University of Northern Iowa. “Cathy’s generosity and a collaboration between the Tallgrass Prairie Center and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation are making this vision for a new public learning space possible.”
A conservation easement, retained by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, guarantees the Irvine Prairie will remain a conservation resource in perpetuity. Ownership of the land belongs to the UNI Properties Corporation, which will contract with the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center to install and maintain the prairie.
“This is a long-term, collaborative process,” said Laura Jackson, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center. “The Tallgrass Prairie Center is the steward of this land. Cathy’s gift provides an opportunity for students from UNI and area schools to form their own questions and make discoveries here. We are thankful for her vision to create a place where students can experience how Iowa used to be 150 years ago.”
“We join Cathy in hoping the Irvine Prairie will inspire others in conservation work, help educate young people and be a place of research and study for students and scientists,” Nook said.
Community members, friends of the Tallgrass Prairie Center and students from Union High School were invited to take part in the first planting Friday. The process of planting the farmland into native prairie will take four to five years. In the first year, 8.5 acres will be planted into prairie.
Only two percent of original North American tallgrass prairie ecosystem remains. In Iowa, less than one-tenth of a percent remains. The prairie performs vital roles in building and stabilizing soil, increasing water absorption and infiltration to improve water quality and reduce flooding, producing fuel for bioenergy, sequestering carbon and providing wildlife habitat.
To learn more about the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, visit tallgrassprairiecenter.org.