Visitors to corridor parklands in 2018 and beyond will enjoy many new emerging prairies, thanks to the vision and hard work of many organizations and governments.
In November, the Cedar Rapids Parks Department planted 82 acres of prairie on city owned land near the Sac and Fox Trail. It capstones 182 acres planted on city land in 2017 with more to come in future years.
In addition, the Linn County Conservation Board planted 141 acres and the Marion Parks Department 27 acres. All told at least 350 acres were planted in Linn County this year. Our metro area is becoming a friendly place for prairies and the wildlife and people who love them.
Prairies once covered about 85 percent of Iowa’s land surface but development for agriculture, roads and towns reduced their acreage to a few tiny scraps. Fortunately, Iowa’s history of converting prairie to crop land and urban areas is reversing, and homeowners are joining park departments to plant and enjoy them.
Often touted for their ability to help declining pollinating insects, especially the monarch butterfly, prairies have many other benefits. Prairies are the best plant community for channeling rainwater down into the ground. They reduce flash flooding and land maintenance costs. They hold soil thus reducing runoff and contamination downstream and in the Gulf of Mexico.
They support dozens of species of wildflowers that mostly bloom in midsummer’s heat. Combined with tall native grasses, prairie diversity provides food and shelter for dozens of wildlife species including pheasants that Iowans love to hunt. Diversity of habitat is a benefit for growing numbers of people who enjoy bird and butterfly watching. Simply put, prairies are gorgeous.
It takes a few years for newly planted prairies to reach their full grandeur, but they are emerging as places of beauty and natural diversity within and near Iowa’s towns and cities.
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l Marion Patterson is an instructor at Kirkwood. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids.