Irvine Prairie to triple in size

Additional 215 acres donated by Cathy Irvine of Dysart

Cathy Irvine, right, pictured with Laura Jackson, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center, at the signing on Jan. 25. PHOTO COURTESY OF TALLGRASS PRAIRIE CENTER

Thanks to a generous gift, a local tallgrass prairie restoration project managed by the University of Northern Iowa’s Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) will more than triple in size.

Cathy Irvine of Dysart has donated more land from her late husband David Irvine’s family farm in northwest Benton County’s Bruce Township to the UNI Foundation to allow it to be returned to tallgrass prairie – Iowa’s original ecosystem.

The Irvine Prairie expansion agreement was officially signed at Cathy’s farm on January 25.

Irvine’s 2023 gift will increase Irvine Prairie from 77 acres to almost 300 acres. It will become one of the largest tracts of restored prairie in eastern Iowa.

“Wednesday’s transfer of the deed was a gratifying occasion for me,” Cathy told the North Tama Telegraph of her decision to donate more land. “The original 70 acres brought so much joy, I was grateful that I could increase the area of prairie right across the road from the established prairie. This allows people to experience the vastness of Iowa’s original landscape. I hope people will visit the prairie and walk on the trails of the restored prairie.”

The Irvine Prairie pictured in warmer months. PHOTO COURTESY OF UNI STUDENT JACEY MEIER

Irvine initially signed the land over to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), which attached a permanent conservation easement before signing the land over to the UNI Foundation Properties Corporation. Regular oversight by INHF ensures that the prairie’s conservation purpose is maintained in perpetuity.

Irvine gave the original gift of 77 acres to establish the preserve in 2018.

“Cathy Irvine’s vision is to create a place where people can see what Iowa used to look like,” Laura Jackson, director of the TPC said. “No one has the power to bring back the ancient tallgrass ecosystem, which was more complex than we can begin to know. But Irvine Prairie will stand as a permanent invitation to experience something vast, to be surprised and filled with awe by the life of the prairie.”

When Cathy first considered adding to the prairie, she considered donating land to the east of the current preserve, she said, but changed her mind after speaking with her friend and tenant farmer Brian Pippert, about the 215 acres she owns in section 29.

“As [Pippert] pointed out, [the 215 acres] have been in David’s family longer, and planting prairie there would surround the house on all four sides with prairie. I liked that prospect very much, and that is what we did,” Cathy explained.

The first tract of the Irvine Prairie Expansion was seeded in the fall of 2022 with a mixture of 84 species of native grasses and wildflowers. PHOTO COURTESY OF TALLGRASS PRAIRIE CENTER

Officially signing over the additional acreage to TPC was a joyous occasion for all involved on Jan. 25 and before the ink on the paperwork could even dry, work to convert the new acres to restored prairie began in earnest.

To find Irvine Prairie, navigate to 1173 55th Street, Dysart, Iowa. The driveway north of the prairie is a private drive and visitors are asked not to use it. Park on the south side of the road in the grass, near the stone marker.

The preserve is open year-round, from sunrise to sunset daily. Visitors are welcome to explore the prairie’s trails but are asked to stay off all adjacent row-cropped agricultural fields.

During the transfer of the deed, TPC Director Laura Jackson could not reiterate enough how important and priceless Cathy’s gift is – and not just for TPC.

“First and foremost, this is a gift for the surrounding rural community, school children, and all those who are lifted up by spending time in nature,” Jackson said.

Erin Van Waus, Conservation Easement Director with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and Jim Jermier, Vice President for University Advancement and President of the UNI Foundation, completed the paperwork to transfer the deed on Jan. 25. PHOTO COURTESY OF TALLGRASS PRAIRIE CENTER