Did you know that the University of Northern Iowa has a campus prairie? It is true! It is complete with trails, so that you can enjoy the peaceful beauty. Making sure all students know about and visit this hidden gem prior to graduation, is one of the goals of The Tallgrass Prairie Center’s Outreach Coordinator, Staci Mueller. Wait! A Tallgrass Prairie Center on UNI campus too?! Yes! Yet another treasure on campus.
The Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC), is located just to the west of main campus on west 27th street. The TPC works with educators, landowners, and government entities to bring to the forefront the benefits of going back to our roots by planting native prairie. TPC programs and projects include Prairie Roots Curriculum, Prairie on the Farms, Showcase of Native Roadsides, Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM), and more. All of the programs seek to educate people about the importance and benefits of native prairie vegetation. These benefits include reducing runoff, reducing soil loss, lessening the severity of flooding, and rebuilding damaged soil structure. The native plantings also resist weed growth; provide habitat for insects, birds, and other wildlife; and have a unique beauty that all may enjoy.
Staci Mueller works with the Prairie Roots Project (PRP). It’s purpose is to provide fun and engaging materials to educators across the state. Dr. Laura Jackson and Maria Urice, an independent consultant, worked alongside educators to develop PRP lesson plans aligned with Iowa Common Core Standards. These plans are geared to upper elementary and middle school students. Educators can also apply for and receive a real prairie root to show the mass and length of these incredible root systems. Through its program TCP provides the tools to help educators teach about prairie ecosystems and the importance they have in our environment.
Prairie on the Farms is a program in which the TPC works with landowners, particularly famers, to establish prairie strips alongside row crops. These prairie strips improve the state’s water quality issues by assisting with erosion, runoff, and water infiltration challenges. The strips have been shown to improve soil quality, reduce nutrient loss, and support wildlife. The main focus of Prairie on the Farms is to support the technical service providers who provide prairie reconstruction to landowners.
Showcase of Native Roadsides is a newer project that will develop an online story map. This map will feature native plantings along the roadside from all over the state. This project works in conjunction with the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management program. The IRVM provides technical assistance, training, and education to Iowa’s county roadside programs. Kristine Nemec, IRVM Program Manager, works with roadside managers and county engineers across the sate to plant natives along the roadways. There are some stellar roadsides throughout the state, which you will be able to view on the online story map. This will give people a chance to see the roadside eye candy, complete with native flowers and plants that they, may not be able to see because they are not heading down that particular stretch of highway.
For anyone interested in native plants whether it be in a farm field or a butterfly garden in the middle of town, there are a host of resources available from the TPC. These include online resources, landowner incentives, and upcoming events related to anything native plants. There were two field days in September and will be similar events next year.
A seminar series will be offered at the TPC January through April. These are on the 2nd Thursday of the each month. The complete calendar can be found on the TPC website (tallgrassprairiecenter.org) along with information and resources about their programs, partners, research and so much more.
Upcoming Seminars, 4 PM, Tallgrass Prairie Center
January 11 — Creating a Case for Habitat in Rights-Of-Way
February 8 — Developing Wetland Mitigation Credits Through Restoration of Exceptional Natural Resources
March 8 — Three Pillars of Pollinator Habitat
April 12 — Native Plant Success in the Home Landscape
For more events visit: tallgrassprairiecenter.org/calendar/