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Iowa City to establish 56 acres of prairie

Prairie grass will cut down on mowing and emissions

Prairie grass grows near the lodge at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area on Thursday, May 21, 2020. The city of Iowa Ci
Prairie grass grows near the lodge at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area on Thursday, May 21, 2020. The city of Iowa City is establishing 56 acres of prairie at 15 sites around the city. (Lee Hermiston/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — More than 50 acres of prairie will be planted throughout Iowa City in the coming years.

The city has entered into a contract with Applied Environmental Services to add 56 acres of prairie in 15 sites around the city, according to Iowa City Parks and Recreation Director Juli Seydell Johnson. The contract, approved by the City Council earlier this month, is for $244,385, Seydell Johnson said.

“They come in and kill off the grass and material that’s on the ground and replant it with prairie mix,” Seydell Johnson said. She noted different prairie variations were chosen to meet the conditions of each site, including wet and dry mixes.

Seydell Johnson said the prairie planting is a response to the city’s declaration of a climate crisis last year. By planting prairie grass in historically low-use areas, the city will have to mow less, thus lowering carbon emissions.

Prairie grass also provides soil stabilization along creeks and creates a natural habitat for wildlife, Seydell Johnson said.

“We looked at areas where the prairie could serve a double duty,” she said. In some areas, the prairie will create “a buffer between the active park use area and a busy street. Some places it is being used to stabilize creek work that we’ve done. Other places, it’s being put in places that have been historically difficult to mow.”

The city originally proposed 86 acres of prairie at 18 sites, but three sites were removed from the plan and others reduced after feedback from the community, Seydell Johnson.

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Concerns from residents have included the prairie encroaching on park area that is actively used and that previously established prairie areas had not been well-maintained.

Seydell Johnson said maintaining the prairie grass shouldn’t be a concern.

“We have a number of staff that this has just been a real interest of theirs,” she said. “We’re confident these are going to be well-maintained prairies.”

Preparation for the prairies will begin in the next few weeks, Seydell Johnson said. Establishing a prairie takes three to five years, requiring occasional maintenance, controlled burning, over-seeding and invasive species removal.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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