Unique landscapes, plants on display at Ciha Fen Preserve

Adam Wesley/The Gazette

The Ciha Fen Preserve, an 80-acre reserve in near Lisbon, is a sand prairie and savanna complex
Adam Wesley/The Gazette The Ciha Fen Preserve, an 80-acre reserve in near Lisbon, is a sand prairie and savanna complex on a wind-deposited sand ridge.

Eastern Iowa nature enthusiasts can take a guided walk through ancient sand dunes and newly blooming wildflowers Saturday at the Ciha Fen Preserve in northeast Johnson County.

The 80-acre preserve at 5656 145th St. in Lisbon is just south of Sutliff. The preserve is a sand prairie/savanna area on a wind-deposited sand ridge. It contains the Ciha fen, one of two documented remaining nutrient-poor fens known in the state of Iowa.

A fen is a type of wetland fed by groundwater. The preserve also features ponds that developed between sand dunes, said Iowa Department of Natural Resources administrator and prairie enthusiast Casey Kohrt, who will lead the walk.

“The area has a lot of windblown sand — ancient dunes that have stabilized and over time developed habitats that are really unusual,” he said. “It’s a fantastic, richly diverse natural area.”

The Ciha Fen Preserve has numerous rare plant and animals species, with 225 native plants identified so far. Visitors may see plants including pussytoes, cleft fox, columbine, rock jasmine, wild strawberry, wild geranium, hairy puccoon, fringed puccoon, prairie buttercup, bluets, lance-leaved violet and bird’s-foot violet. Animals include the non-venomous western hognose snake and the yellow-marked Blanding’s turtle.

A nutrient-poor fen takes eons to form, according to the Iowa Natural Heritage, Foundation. Water bubbles to the surface through buried sand and gravel left behind by glaciers. Compared to a bog, a nutrient-poor fen has only a slightly acidic pH water chemistry, which means the vegetation that grows there is different from that found in other parts of the state. The Ciha fen is known for a large floating peat vegetation mat in the middle of the water. The state’s only other known nutrient-poor fen is found in Deadman’s Lake in Pilot Knob State Park near Forest City.

The walk, sponsored by the Iowa Native Plant Society in honor of Iowa Wildflower Month, is free. Hikers are advised to wear rubber or waterproof boots. Kohrt will assist with plant identification, and University of Iowa earth and environmental sciences professor Art Bettis will discuss the fen’s unique geology and describe his graduate students’ studies. Hikers will meet at the preserve at 9:30 a.m. All ages are welcome.

The Johnson County Conservation Board acquired the land in 2011 from Howard and Phyllis Ciha. Over the past three years, the board has been removing eastern red cedar and invasive brush and trees from the area. Visitors are encouraged to clean their shoes before visiting the preserve to avoid bringing in invasive species.

The public can visit the preserve at any time, but there are no hiking trails and limited parking.

- What: Hike through Ciha Fen Nature Preserve

- When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday

- Where: Ciha Fen Preserve, 5656 145th St., Lisbon

- Cost: Free

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