Thanks to a generous gift, the number of acres of restored prairie developed and managed by the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa will soon triple
Cathy Irvine of Dysart has donated more land from her husband’s family farm in northwest Benton County to the UNI Foundation to allow it to be returned to tallgrass prairie, Iowa’s original ecosystem. The expansion donation was officially signed on Jan. 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.
“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.
“With Cathy’s gift, the Tallgrass Prairie Center and UNI students have the rare opportunity to test advanced techniques in prairie restoration and management. 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.
Irvine initially signed the land over the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, who attached a permanent conservation easement before signing over the land over to the UNI Foundation. Regular oversight by INHF ensures that the prairie’s conservation purpose is maintained for perpetuity. Irvine gave the original gift of 77 acres in 2018.
What is Irvine Prairie?
Irvine Prairie is a 292 acre prairie-in-progress on the farm of Cathy Irvine in memory of her husband David. In partnership with Cathy and the farm operator, we are restoring an ecologically diverse tallgrass prairie that engages current and future generations of students and community members in learning about Iowa’s prairie heritage and appreciating the benefits provided by prairie.
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation holds the conservation easement on the property, and the University of Northern Iowa Foundation Properties Corporation is the owner. The original 77 acres was dedicated on May 18, 2018. The Dysart Reporter ran an article in September 2018. The UNI Alumni Magazine ran a story with photos of the dedication in their Spring 2019 issue. The local The Northern Iowan ran a story on our work with Union High School in Fall 2019. In January 2023, Cathy Irvine donated an additional 215 acres to complete the gift.
Since 2018, we have introduced over 100 species of native prairie plants, using the most genetically diverse and regionally appropriate seed sources available, and closely matching species with soil moisture conditions. Some hard-to-establish species are started in our greenhouse and introduced as plugs. The Tallgrass Prairie Center uses the best known approaches to controlling weeds and encouraging diverse, native wildlife. We are committed to documenting the work, and carefully monitoring the results, to guide future management decisions.
- Visit the Restoration and Land Management page for more information on the restoration plan and progress.
- Watch this short video about UNI undergraduate research at Irvine Prairie.
Irvine Prairie will be a place for the community and kids of all ages to learn about Iowa's prairie heritage. Please see these pages for more information on visiting Irvine Prairie on your own or with a group:
Finding Irvine Prairie
Irvine Prairie is free and open to the public. Facilities are limited at the moment, but we encourage and welcome visitors to explore the planted areas. No hunting or motor vehicles are permitted. Please see our Visitor Policy page for more information.To find Irvine Prairie, navigate to 1173 55th Street, Dysart, Iowa. The driveway on the north is a private drive; please do not use. Park on the south side of the road in the grass, near the stone marker. The road to the site is gravel and may not be passable during spring thaw or after heavy rain or snowfall. For more information, contact Laura.L.Jackson@uni.edu.
History of the Irvine Farm
The 292 acres in NW Benton County that are becoming the the Irvine Prairie were donated by Cathy Irvine in her husband David Irvine's name. David and Cathy had lived on the farm containing those acres since 1970. David's mother, Viola Mehlhaus Irvine, inherited the farm when her parents died in 1942. David's father, David Irvine Senior, was serving in the Pacific at the time of his in-laws' deaths. After the war, David's father chose to farm rather than return to his teaching profession. The elder Irvines farmed together until poor health caused them to retire from active farming. By that time David and Cathy were living on the farm with David operating the row crop production and Cathy working as a special education teacher in the Waterloo school system. Love of the land and curiosity about the history of the area led to David and Cathy's interest in Iowa's prairie roots. John Madsen's book, Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie, focused their attention on the diversity and vastness of Iowa's prairies. Thus when David passed away in 2016, Cathy pursued the restoration of a portion of David's legacy farm as a prairie in order to ensure that Iowans have access to the contentment and beauty of our native landscape. We welcome visitors and school groups to Irvine prairie.
--Cathy Irvine (April 2019)