Dordt College News

See and hear about Dordt's prairie project

September 10, 2009

Prairie Project

See beautiful wildflowers and learn about Dordt College's prairie project on a Prairie Walk Thursday, Sept. 17. Prairie walkers should meet in the parking lot behind Dordt's Campus Center at 6:30 p.m.

Robb De Haan will lead the group through the prairie-in-progress along the Sioux Center bike trail. In case of rain, meet in the science building lecture hall 108 for an illustrated talk about the work in progress.

Joelle Van Gaalen (senior in the biology department at Dordt College) and Dr. Robb De Haan (Professor of Environmental Studies at Dordt College)have provided some details about the project here:

The college is restoring 20 acres of tall grass prairie along the bike trail. The former Kuhl farm is not a prairie yet, but it’s slowly becoming one.

A prairie is distinctly different from lawns and pastures, despite the fact that all three are sometimes called “grassland”. The neatly trimmed, even spread of grass that makes up lawns is much different than the diverse mix of 150-200 species of wildflowers and grasses “ever changing in form, color and texture” that make up a prairie.

In 1850, the entire landscape in Northwest Iowa was covered by tall grass prairie. Early settlers were amazed by the seemingly endless expanse of wildflowers and tall grasses. Things have changed. Today, many people living in Iowa have never walked through a tall grass prairie, and most would have a hard time recognizing one if they saw it. This is not surprising, since 99.9 percent of the tall grass prairie in Iowa has been converted to another use.

Prairie Project

Globally, tall grass prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth. Given the nearly complete loss of prairie in Iowa, restoration projects like the Dordt College Prairie are needed to enable us to get to know the unique plants God created and placed in this part of the world and learn to appreciate the beauty of prairie.

For those who like animals better than plants, the prairie also provides habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, giving them a home, and giving us a chance to enjoy them as well. Prairie restoration involves land preparation, seeding, and maintenance.

Land preparation for the Dordt College prairie began several years ago when we removed trees from the wetland area, began to use only herbicides without carryover on the cropland, and removed the original pasture. The northwest seven acres of the prairie was seeded in the spring of 2008, and the rest was seeded in the spring of 2009.

After seeding, newly planted prairie needs to be mowed regularly for up to three years to prevent annual weedy plants from inhibiting the establishment of prairie species. Mowing is no longer necessary once a healthy population of prairie plants has become established.

Long term management of the prairie will involve removal of specific weeds, some mowing and haying, and ideally some carefully controlled burns. It is often said of a newly seeded prairie that the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.

The Dordt College prairie was ‘sleeping’ and ‘creeping’ this year (thus the abundance of annual weedy plants) but if all goes well it should leap in the next year or two.

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