Irvine Prairie draws a crowd as part of annual conference

New visitor kiosk, weather station greet visitors

Justin Meissen, right, with UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center stands in a natural waterway on Oct. 5 at Irvine Prairie while speaking to a group of participants from this year’s Roadside Vegetation Conference. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

RURAL DYSART – Irvine Prairie in rural Dysart was featured as part of this year’s annual Roadside Vegetation Conference – a conference organized by UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) for those working in one way or another in county roadside vegetation programs.

While most of the attendees this year were county and city roadside managers, other individuals who visited the prairie-in-progress as part of a conference field trip included county supervisors, county conservation directors, county engineers, personnel from the Iowa Dept. of Ag and Land Stewardship (IDALS), Trees Forever representatives, staff from Iowa State University and the Iowa and Illinois departments of transportation, as well as general prairie enthusiasts including rural landowners and farmers.

Two separate tour buses full of conference participants made the trek down from Cedar Falls on Thursday last week for a quick tour of the prairie which was conducted by TPC staff including Justin Meissen, research and restoration program manager, and Andy Olson, prairie on farms program manager.

While a combine worked the fields to the south, Meissen and Olson led groups on a tour around the original 80-acre parcel’s trails, answering questions and explaining the different methods they’ve used to restore the prairie as they walked.

Ahead of the hike during Meissen’s brief opening remarks – which he provided standing atop a massive rock located near the trailhead – the group learned how the preserve came to be thanks to a gift from local conservationist and retired teacher Cathy Irvine who still resides on her and her late husband’s farmstead across the road.

Andy Olson, far right, with UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center leads a group of conference participants on Oct. 5 through part of the original 80-acre prairie parcel at Irvine Prairie in rural Dysart. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

“Cathy wanted to bring a little prairie back to her farm,” Meissen said. “And then she thought, why not bring [the prairie] to all her farm.”

One of the main takeaways participants gleaned during the hikes – which moved through five years’ worth of different prairie plantings – was the importance of using commercial seed at Irvine Prairie.

“The commercial seed aspect is important to us,” Meissen explained, “because it’s something we can all access.”

In essence, Meissen said, part of the beauty that is the Irvine Prairie is that its biodiversity is not out of reach for those looking to plant prairie — and that includes prairie planted in ditches which often represent some of the largest tracts of native habitat available in many of Iowa’s counties.

A question was asked about tile and if the land where Irvine Prairie is located still had tile buried in the soil, to which Meissen said yes.


“That’s a neighbor-good-grace thing,” he replied. “People can get very concerned when there is water standing around them.”

The subject of tiling then led to another question about the landowners and farmers who live and work in the immediate fields surrounding Irvine Prairie – the questioner wanted to know what TPC’s relationship was like with those folks.

“We have really good relationships with our neighbors,” Meissen answered, “because Cathy Irvine is such a good, upstanding member of this community — everyone likes Cathy. We make sure to keep them in the loop on [things like] burning.”

While Cathy herself was unable to be present for the tours, she was certainly felt in the late-season flowers blooming across the dusty prairie which included many blue and white asters, a few goldenrods still holding on, and even some coreopsis seemingly trying to continue its telltale ‘ocean of yellow’ in the waning warm days.

New features

The Tallgrass Prairie Center’s (TPC) research and restoration program manager, Justin Meissen, right, speaks to a group of participants from this year’s Roadside Vegetation Conference about a remnant cluster of prairie cordgrass (behind him) found growing in a ditch along the north side of Irvine Prairie’s original 80-acre parcel. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

For those new to Irvine Prairie like the roadside conference attendees or who visit quite often, a couple of newer features have popped up recently on the preserve including a visitor’s kiosk by the trailhead just off 55th Street, and a weather station located in the northeast corner of the south parcel.

The kiosk displays a trail map, as well as several pictorial guides to the plants, flowers, and birds that may be observed while visiting.

The weather station was installed back in early September. According to a TPC Facebook post at the time, the station will aid in ongoing research projects while helping to monitor conditions at the 292-acre preserve via real-time data including temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and wind speed.

To access the station, visit https://www.pwsweather.com and type in irvineprairie (one word) into the location search bar.

To find the Irvine Prairie which is open to the public, navigate to 1174 55th Street, Dysart. Park on the south side of the road in the grass, near the stone marker. A portable bathroom facility is available.

The new visitor kiosk. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER