Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 21, 2017

The Prairie is Our Home

By Pam Holz | Nov 11, 2011

“Nothing worthy of note, it being entire prairie.” - Surveyor’s Field Notes, 1855.

“Then I discovered the prairie, and a slow healing began.” – Stephen R. Jones, 2000.

Our relationship with the prairie has always been a mixed one. Many of us look out upon the sea of grasses and see weeds. On the flip side, a smaller group sees home.

This wide-ranging depth of feeling began with the first Europeans and continues to today. I suppose, though, to be fair, today’s experience is extremely limited due to the disappearance of almost all native prairie from the state.

While grasslands exist in Russia, Africa, and South America, it wasn’t a habitat found in Europe. The first explorers, surveyors, and settlers were a bit stunned when faced with a land without trees. So, they concluded, must be pretty poor land; let’s homestead in the timbered river areas.

Of course, eventually our timbered areas became settled and new settlers were pushed into the open. At the same time, John Deere’s new invention – the steel plow – comes to Iowa, permitting a relatively easy way to break the tough prairie sod. And lo and behold, the settlers discover black gold: the rich, Grade A soil hidden under those “weeds.”

Eventually, 99.9% of our prairie would be plowed up. Iowa is transformed from tallgrass to corn, beans, and other crops.

And since we no longer see it, our prairie past is forgotten.

I, like many of you, have heard that we study the past in order not to repeat its mistakes. I respectfully disagree. We study the past to learn who we are.

Let’s try this using a different subject: math. There is an accepted flow of learning for math. You start with learning your numbers, how to count and then move up to simple addition and subtraction. While those problems get more complicated, you move into multiplication and division. Eventually, you get to geometry, trigonometry, and maybe even calculus.

However, if you start with multiplication or worse, trig, the students are going to be completely lost. You need a steady foundation before you work up to more complex problems.

We need the same for history and part of our history is the land that supports us. Underlying our status as an agricultural and rural state (even as we move onto more technological fields), is the prairie. Our history is not just defined by the events that occurred, but also why they occurred. And the prairie influenced all of it.

As an Iowan, I invite you to learn more about your past, about the foundations that made Iowa the state it is now. Visit the prairie exhibit at Marr Park’s Conservation Education Center now. In a month, it moves to western Iowa and the opportunity will be lost.

The exhibit is designed for all ages, from young ones grasping depths of roots to prairie critters to adults learning about the changes through time, the benefits, and even what they can do. Visit any time during open hours. We’ll even be glad to show you around, if you desire.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Mar 21, 2016 02:41
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Jan 07, 2016 12:41

" Look to the Northward stranger, just over the hillside there,
Have you in your travels seen,  a land more passing fair? "

James Norman Hall (1887-1951) writing about Iowa.

Hall was born in the Iowa town of Culfax on April 22nd, 1887. As a young man in Colfax, he did virtually everything that "Huckleberry Finn" did along with a few added adventures.  Following graduation from Colfax High School, he worked in a haberdashery store; with this money and working his way as well, Hall went to Grinnell College, graduating in 1910.  He considered these years the best in his life and remained close friends with his professors for the rest of their lives.  Literature and music were his main sources of pleasure.  Hall wrote, "Mutiny on the Bounty".  



Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Jan 06, 2016 17:47

Lake Darling hosts 72 for First Day Hike

Jan 06, 2016

DES MOINES – Iowa’s fifth annual First Day Hikes were a great success according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff reports.

More than 600 people began 2016 with a hike in an Iowa state park, logging more than 1,100 total miles on New Year’s Day Friday.

Seventeen parks had people participate with groups ranging in size from one to nearly 100, and most hikes averaged one to two miles depending on the location.

Hikers ranged from 5 to 70 years of age at the Waubonsie State Park hike, according to park manager Matt Moles.

Waubonsie has been hosting a First Day Hike for the last three years and it has grown each year.

“The years’ progressive totals have been 12, 30 and now 69,” said Moles. “For most of our group it was their first time visiting Waubonsie and many commented on the size and beauty of the park. There is nothing better than getting folks here who wouldn’t have otherwise wandered in.”

“I’m ‘unofficially’ claiming we had the youngest participant,” said Andy Bartlett, park manager at Ledges State Park in Boone County. “One couple brought their 6-week-old baby.”

Ledges State Park was a first-time host this year and had its parking lot overflowing with more than 60 people who joined the hike.

Lake Darling State Park in Washington County also hosted a hike for the first time this year and had 72 hikers.

According to Lake Darling park manager Andrew Roach, probably the most memorable experience for his hikers was seeing the bald eagles’ nest and the actual eagles flying around the park.

“We were small but mighty here at Springbrook Conservation Education Center, with nine participants,” said Allison Cherry, AmeriCorps naturalist for the center. “But it allowed for great conversation and plenty of wildlife watching, especially deer. The kids didn’t want to leave; I think they would have stayed all day if the parents had let them.”

Prairie Rose State Park in west-central Iowa took a chance on hosting its first First Day Hike as an evening owl prowl during the Rose Bowl broadcast and had 34 hikers show up.

“We had a great turn out for our hike considering it was our first and it was during the Iowa game,” said park manager Michelle Reinig. “Fun was had by all, and we even saw three owls on our prowl.”

The two state parks that have participated in all five First Day Hikes ­­— Walnut Woods State Park on the southwest side of the Des Moines and Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque — had just shy of 100 people each attend their hikes.

Walnut Woods State Park participants could choose from two hike lengths, each ending at the lodge where they could warm up at the fireplace and enjoy a spread of food provided by generous friends.

One fourth-grade girl made the day of Mines of Spain Park manager Wayne Buchholtz when he overheard her say: “This was the best hike I have been on, I never hiked in the winter before.”

Iowa’s First Day Hike participants were encouraged to log their adventures on social media with #FirstDayHikes and #IowaStateParks, and each park made available a handcrafted picture frame, with the name of the park, to enhance their photographs.

State park friends groups and other volunteers were on hand at most First Day Hikes to help lead the hikes and provide refreshments.

First Day Hikes, sponsored by America’s State Parks, is a national initiative to get people outdoors and get healthy. All 50 states participated in the fifth annual event.

If you wish to comment, please login.