HONEY CREEK, Iowa — Volunteers and staff will work to restore the Loess Hills landscape April 13 during the Hitchcock Nature Center's Prairie Rescue Day.
Dogwood, sumac, green ash and elm trees grow in the wrong areas and have overrun portions of the preserve, which leaves little sunlight for native grasses and plants to grow.
“They're primarily native species that belong in the system. But the system is out of balance,” said Chad Graeve, natural resource specialist at the nature center in Honey Creek. “The trees are too dense, they're out of control.”
Hitchcock staff and volunteers will work to correct the problem during the third annual Prairie Rescue Day from 9 a.m. to noon on the 13th.
The land is part of what was once a 300-acre YMCA camp. It was purchased by a private developer who planned to establish a landfill and bulldozed in preparation for that.
“He wanted to bring garbage in from New Jersey to bury there,” Graeve said.
But the plan didn't work out, and the developer defaulted on the real estate loan. The county bought the land at a sheriff's sale in 1991.
Historically, the Loess Hills were a grassland system, with oak woodlands that were open. Without fires to maintain the prairie, the valley filled in with trees and brush.
“Fire and grazing are two really important aspects in that system,” Graeve said. “They're as important as the sun and the wind and the rain.”
Native grasses at Hitchcock include little bluestem and sideoats grama. Purple prairie clover and leadplant are among the wildflowers. Clearing brush and trees to make way for those species will improve the land's ability to retain water.
The root systems of those grasses and flowers run deep and are fine, compared to trees, whose systems are not relatively deep and coarse, Graeve said. With too many trees, water rolls along the top of the loess soil instead of soaking in.