Prairies in Parks
Before Iowa was settled, prairie covered most of the state and central United States. Over 95 percent of tall grass prairies that developed more than 10,000 years ago have slowly disappeared. Prairies provide watershed, water quality, wildlife habitat, pollinator habitat and long term savings through reduced mowing.
The Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department has been on the forefront of creating pollinator habitat within an urban park setting. The first prairies were installed more than 10 years ago along the city trail system.
Pollinators play a critical role in maintaining diverse ecosystems and in the production of our food. Seventy-five percent of plants in the world require pollination by an animal. Pollinators contribute to the production of more than 30 percent of our food and increase the value of the nation’s crops by $15 billion dollars.
Clark McLeod and Cam Watts created the Monarch Research Project to address their concerns about the long term implications of the dwindling population of monarchs and other pollinators. The group developed a system of rearing monarchs using tented, protected environments. In a natural setting, monarch eggs only produce a few mature butterflies. However, using bio tents, McLeod and Watts saw that 90 percent of the eggs produced butterflies.
The Parks and Recreation Department has incorporated pollinator zones into the Cedar Rapids park system. Bio tents were used to produce butterflies at Noelridge Park last year. The tent, located near the Noelridge Gardens, grew dozens of butterflies during the 2016 season.
The Department works with neighborhoods to identify areas that could benefit from conversion to a pollinator zone. The areas will include benches and picnic tables with a widened mowed area so people can enjoy the wildflowers and pollinators. Neighborhoods may add bluebird houses and other objects to enhance the area for nature. These zones will be actively maintained and viewed as long-term green infrastructure.
1000 Acre Pollinator Initiative
The Monarch Research Project identified the potential of using urban public land to increase pollinator habitat. They approached the City with a request for a commitment to convert unused public land into prairie and initiated a partnership that has become the 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative.
Currently, the city maintains approximately 125 acres of prairie within the public park system and right-of-ways. The Parks and Recreation Department worked with City land managers to identify acreage suitable for habitat conversion not only within parks, but also sewer and water detention basins, right-of-ways, property managed by the Utilities Department and Eastern Iowa Airport, and portions of City golf courses. Over 400 acres have been identified within the City of Cedar Rapids for conversion. The City of Cedar Rapids has partnered with Linn County Conservation and the City of Marion to convert additional acreage to meet the 1000 acre goal.
In 2017, the City will begin preparing 170 acres for prairie conversion. Prairies will be planted along the Sac & Fox Trail and at Squaw Creek, Beverly, Noelridge, Wilderness Estates, and Seminole Valley parks.
Monarch Research Project volunteers plan to urge private land owners to participate with a goal of converting 10 percent of mowed turf to pollinator habitat each year. The Research Project has also committed to help raise funds for the conversion of park turf to prairie. The estimated costs for 1000 acres is between $1 and $1.5 million dollars.
Thanks to our donors:
Iowa Department of Natural Resources-REAP Grant
Monarch Research Project
Find more information at:
Monarch Research Project
Tallgrass Prairie Center
Project Pollinator Guide-Building Gardens for Pollinators
Midwest Monarch Nectar Plants
We will need volunteers to assist with management of the prairies in the future. Check back for details about how you can be involved.