Tallgrass Prairie Center


Welcome to Irvine Prairie


 We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it — for a little while.  
― Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

Irvine Prairie


What is Irvine Prairie?


Irvine Prairie is a 77-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 will restore and maintain 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 site 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.

Over a period of five years we anticipate planting about 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 will be started in our greenhouse and introduced as plugs. The Tallgrass Prairie Center will use 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.

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:


Union High School class, 9-27-18

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
aerial photo 2016 Irvine Rock


History of the Irvine Farm 

The 77 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)