Governor Chet Culver has proclaimed the week of Sept. 12 through Sept. 18 as ' Iowa's Prairie Heritage Week,' a time to celebrate the history and beauty of Iowa's original landscape.
To celebrate our local prairies, the Cherokee County Conservation Board (CCCB) is hosting a public Prairie Walk Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 6 p.m. on the 40-acre portion of Steele Prairie State Preserve in rural Larrabee (4473 P Avenue).
A majority of Iowa was once covered with prairie, but it is estimated that less than 0.1% of Iowa's original prairie remains today . The few remnants that remain are scattered among the vast sea of row crops and non-native species that have been planted for hay and grazing. Prairie remnants may exist in pastures and hayfields that have never been plowed, in road ditches, and in pioneer cemeteries.
In Cherokee County, remnant prairies are common on the slopes that frame the Little Sioux River valley. Work is ongoing to identify, manage, and hopefully protect, those few remnants that remain.
In 1987, during the first annual Prairie Heritage Week, Steele Prairie found permanent protection when then-governor Terry Branstad dedicated the property, two parcels totaling 200 acres, as a State Preserve. At that time, the preserve boasted over 141 species of plants, including two rare orchids, 32 species of vertebrates and 17 species of butterflies.
The challenge for Cherokee County Conservation staff has been to maintain or increase this diversity over many years and various staff changes. The good news for Steele Prairie is that current staff and equipment capabilities, as well as strong partnerships with Iowa DNR and other CCBs, have returned annual fires to this native landscape, improving native plant diversity and allowing for better habitat for native wildlife.
The public is invited to a guided tour of the smaller parcel of Steele, a 40-acre remnant located one mile west and one half-mile north from Larrabee. This remnant, once utilized for prairie hay by the T.H. Steele family, includes rich tallgrass prairie, as well as wetland areas.
Participants will be encouraged to help collect native seed for restoration of additional acres of protected land, if conditions permit.
All ages are welcome at this free event. Sturdy shoes, long pants, insect repellent and a camera are all recommended. Field guides and refreshments will be provided. Please call the CCCB at 712-225-6709 for more information.