Oak Savanna Restoration Project

With the help of a generous grant from the Gilchrist Foundation of Sioux,City,Iowa we were able to do a major Oak Savanna restoration project. The restoration work was done over a two year period and will require one more season to complete. The first phase was to remove the non-native trees, shrubs, and thinning of small native trees. The effort is to allow sunlight to reach the savanna floor which will allow native savanna flowers and grasses to thrive. The next step in the Sring of 2012 is to plant native gasses and forbs in the cleared area. It will be a few years before the savanna will return to its natural state. Please see the before and after photos in photo gallery of the savanna restoration. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has an excellent web site explaining oak savanna restoration in detail. The site address is http://www.inhf.org/ec11-oak-savannas.cfm.

Vincent Bluff Articles

The Vincent Bluff preserve is now the Vincent Bluff State preserve.

It was dedicated as the 95th State Preserve on May 16 2009. For more information about State preserves please go the web site Iowa Preserves.

John T Price Professor of English, author and Council Bluffs resident was the featured speaker. The text of his speech follows

As a citizen of Council Bluffs, where my wife and I are raising our two young sons (with one more on the way), and as a life-long Iowan, and as someone who loves the prairie, it is an honor to have been invited to share a few words in honor of Vincent Bluff becoming an Iowa State Preserve.

While growing up on farms in Wisconsin and Iowa during the late 19th Century, writer Hamlin Garland witnessed and participated in the transformation of the tallgrass prairies into cropland. “The prairies are gone,” he wrote years later. “The garden that had bloomed and fruited for millions of years lay torn and ravaged. The tender plants, the sweet flowers, the fragrant fruits, the busy insects, all the swarming lives which had been native here for untold centuries were utterly destroyed.” The prairie, he claimed, “had vanished as if it had all been dreamed.” It was a loss that haunted him the rest of his life, as he moved to Chicago, Boston, and finally New York. Even in the shadow of that immense city he longed to return to the prairies of his Iowa youth, hoping a portion of them might still remain, the dream still within reach. He wrote:

Well meet them yet, they are not lost forever; They lie somewhere, those splendid prairie lands, Far in the West, untouched of plough and harrow Unmarked by man’s all desolating hands.

Today at Vincent Bluff, thanks to the hard work of so many people, we stand witness to a portion of that dream restored, proof positive that our hands do not have to be, as Hamlin Garland once claimed, “all desolating.” For many years, dedicated people have volunteered to work here at Vincent Bluff, people from the city and from the country, young and old, a spontaneous community helping to preserve and recover a native landscape many of us growing up in Iowa have never truly seen or known. These gatherings of volunteers and visionaries have been defined by a kind a faith, as important as any other; a faith perhaps best described in the Book of Hebrews: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is a faith made all the more significant by taking place in a state where so many communities have been and continue to be torn apart by economic battles over the land. This state and region still face significant challenges when it comes to preserving our beautiful natural heritage, our native birthright, and so much has been lost-so many prairies, so much potential good. But this prairie, growing here in the heart of Council Bluffs, is perhaps evidence that as the land can heal so, too, can we.

The effort to save and restore Vincent Bluff is about the past and the present of this place and its people, but it is also about the future. There is so much yet to learn about prairie ecologies in the Loess Hills, and in that regard Vincent Bluff is an experiment in the unknown, a mystery. We, too, are part of that mystery. Look around at those gathered in faith with you here today, and imagine all those to come, especially the children. Those children, living here in Council Bluffs and elsewhere, will be able to explore this magnificent place in the heart of our city. They and their friends and families, will be able to enjoy the magnificent views and wander among the tall grasses, perhaps becoming lost in them a time or two. They will be able to help gather prairie seeds and plant them, and will encounter all kind of amazing creatures who, like them, consider this place home. They will learn, as well, to appreciate the softer touch of fire on the land. They will witness, again and again, the gathering of Iowans and others on this healing land to celebrate, at last, its native beauty. This prairie may also come to inhabit their dreams, transforming their identity, as it did Hamlin Garland’s. If so, how will it shape them? What will it awaken inside them? It will, I hope, make them alert with joy and wonder and freedom. May it also teach them humility, commitment, and a deep, unshakable love for life outside themselves.

Perhaps we here today will have the privilege of witnessing such transformations in those future generations who come to love Vincent Bluff. Perhaps we will experience such a transformation ourselves. Whatever the case, I hold to the natve hope that some account of this significant and beautiful day, this dedication, will be available for those who come to enjoy the many blessings of it. Perhaps that account will be in the form of words, of memories and stories passed down. As a writer, I’d like to hope that will be the case, but compared to the prairie, words are such fragile things. So I hold to another, more enduring hope: That at Vincent Bluff, in hillsides full of native flowers and grasses, there will remain the evidence of how we touched, briefly, the land here. That the birds and butterflies, the skinks and skippers, the shrews and snakes-the whole wild, beloved community-might be here as well, to awaken the land in their own ways, to call us back, year after year after year, to bloom again in the prairie sun.

Vincent Bluff Prairie Preserve is a cooperative venture between the City of Council Bluffs, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the LHPS to preserve a unique urban prairie in the Loess Hills Landform. The preserve is located in the heart of Council Bluffs; the City owns the land. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation was the vehicle through which primary acquisition of the property was made possible. LHPS, through an agreement with the City of Council Bluffs, provides for the management and restoration of the preserve. Numerous other sponsors, volunteers and organizations worked to make the project come to fruition as well.

Today, Vincent Bluff Prairie Preserve stands as the only truly urban prairie preserve in the State of Iowa, and likewise, is a great example of Loess Hills prairie, oak savanna, and eastern deciduous forest ecosystems. The fact that this nearly pristine landscape exists in the heart of a metropolitan area of nearly 1 million residents speaks of the resiliency of prairie and the ruggedness of the Loess Hills.

In December, 2005, the LHPS began the process of applying to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to have Vincent Bluff declared a State Preserve, a designation afforded only 92 other properties in the state. The state preserve system was established in 1965 to “…identify and preserve, for this and future generations, portions of our natural prehistorical and historical heritage, and to maintain preserved lands as nearly as possible in their natural condition.” (From IDNR Website).

There are five state preserve categories: natural, geological, archeological, historical, and scenic. Many state preserves fit into several categories. State Preserve status allows the IDNR to provide technical assistance to local management authorities to ensure that the features which make state preserves unique are sustainable for future generations. It is hoped that with state preserve status, the LHPS can conduct more informed and in-depth management decisions with regards to restoring native prairie, deciduous forests and savanna ecosystems.

State Preserve Status also would make Vincent Bluff eligible for grant funding through the State Preserves Advisory Board. Currently, the LHPS relies on the technical expertise of board members, volunteers and local biologists, ornithologists and herpetologists to conduct species surveys, and create management plans, among other things. “Having the ability to offset some of our local resources with the knowledge and expertise of the IDNR will greatly increase the capacity of the LHPS in restoring and managing native ecosystems at Vincent Bluff,” said board member Blake Mayberry.

Mayberry continues, “We envision Vincent Bluff as a place where students and professors can come to study the affects of urbanization on native ecosystems. We are part of the largest metropolitan area in Iowa and Nebraska, nearly one million people live within a 30 minute drive of Vincent Bluff, and that is a great opportunity to reach out and educate people about the Loess Hills. But it is also a great opportunity for colleges and universities to expand the knowledge base of the Loess Hills landscape, particularly how native species react to increased air and noise pollution, fragmentation of habitat, and increased use for recreation. We hope Vincent Bluff can become a sort of outdoor laboratory for studying all aspects of the Loess Hills.”

Achieving State Preserve status would also mean that in order for Vincent Bluff to be sold or developed the Iowa legislature would have to act to overturn the protection afforded by virtue of being a State Preserve. “We want to make sure the existence of Vincent Bluff continues for future generations, and State Preserve Status pretty much guarantees that,” adds board member Larry Tibbles, taking a break from his chain saw after felling several invasive cedar trees at Vincent Bluff. Larry’s daughter, Larissa, a budding conservationist herself, often accompanies Larry while he does restoration work at Vincent Bluff. Larry’s wife, Cindy, is also involved in LHPS activities and is also a regular volunteer at Vincent Bluff. “We are interested in seeing Vincent Bluff preserved, as prairie preservation and restoration is a family affair. We think it’s important for our daughter, as well as others, to learn about nature and ecosystems, and how we are a part of that too.”

Vincent Bluff is the perfect place to witness ecosystem interaction between humans and nature due to its location in the middle of a large city. Standing atop Vincent Bluff, one can see male turkeys vying for attention by displaying their plumage, watch deer forage in the woods, or see people commuting to work in downtown Omaha. “Wow, this view is spectacular!,” exclaims Mayberry. “I’ve been up here a hundred times, but it always amazes me. And look, right next to my feet there is a hoary puccoon in bloom, next to Indian grass and little bluestem. From here you can see the skyscrapers in the downtown area, but still be within a native ecosystem.”

Because so many native species are present at Vincent Bluff, Mayberry believes the chances of becoming a state preserve are even better. The IDNR takes into consideration many factors when looking at a state preserve candidate, such as biodiversity. But Mayberry hopes that another aspect will be considered – viewshed preservation. “So many of our state preserves focus on historical resources and unique biological communities, but one thing that we in this part of Iowa are in danger of losing are scenic views. Every time someone develops a hill-top, the face of our community changes, sometimes for the better, but many times for the worse.” The term “state preserve” is defined in the Code of Iowa as “…an area of land or water formally dedicated under this chapter for maintenance as nearly as possible in its natural condition though it need not be completely primeval in character at the time of dedication or an area which has unusual flora, fauna, geological, archaeological, scenic, or historical features of scientific or educational value.” While Vincent Bluff’s plants, animals, and geological features are quite noteworthy, Mayberry hopes to convince the State Preserves Advisory Board that its scenic features make it worthy of dedication, “Its almost monumental [Vincent Bluff], I mean, people remember that view like they remember the Arch in St. Louis.”

Oswald offers another point, “One of the objectives of the LHPS is the concept of ‘dressing for success’ – meaning: if we want this area to become successful at attracting and retaining positive business investment, in the form of higher paying jobs, then we have to dress for the part. You wouldn’t go into a job interview wearing jeans and a t-shirt, so why would we, as Iowans, want the first impression others get of our state to be a quarry or a junkyard?”

The scenic view of Vincent Bluff is one of the first things drivers on I-80 see as they cross the Missouri River into Iowa. “When crossing the bridge and you see the “Welcome to Iowa” sign, you can look straight ahead and see Vincent Bluff,” says Mayberry, who is preparing the state preserve application. “Preserving Vincent Bluff,” he argues, “would be preserving one of the most visible and prominent bluff prairies in the State. When you take all the other unique aspects of Vincent Bluff: the native species, the oak savanna, the eastern deciduous forest, the prairie, the importance as a wildlife corridor for migrating raptors and birds, the history of the property as a farmstead under pressure from [housing] developers, and the amazing effort of volunteers to create the preserve, Vincent Bluff is as special a place as any in the state preserve system. But add to that the amazing publicity it gives our state to visitors and you have a spectacular opportunity for preservation on the highest level.” The State Preserves Advisory Board will consider Vincent Bluff’s application for state preserve status at their regular meeting on July 14th at the Wapsi Environmental Education Center in Scott County northwest of Davenport. Review of an application can take years, as the IDNR will gather data about the property and conduct site visits to determine if state preserve status is warranted.

For further information about Vincent Bluff’s application for state preserve status, contact Blake Mayberry at: blake_mayberry@msn.com. For more information on the IDNR’s State Preserve System and State Preserve Advisory Board go to www.iowadnr.com/preserves

New Parking Lot at Vincent Bluff

Thanks to a REAP grant, a parking lot and handicap accessible sidewalk were installed at Vincent Bluff Preserve in the fall of 2005. The parking lot is composed of porous pavers which provide a stable surface for public use while minimizing the impact of stormwater on the surrounding neighborhood. This type of parking lot system was selected as a demonstration to the construction community as an alternative method that can be used to lessen the environmental impact of construction in the Loess Hills.

In the natural landscape, rainwater is slowed by prairies, forests, and wetlands to slowly infiltrate back into the earth. Conventional construction methods using concrete and asphalt channel runoff to a central point for redistribution to another location. The channeling of runoff can increase erosion and concentrate pollutants.

Porous pavement systems are designed to reduce this runoff and direct the replenishing benefits of rainwater naturally into the ground underneath. This environmentally friendly pavement system minimizes the erosive impact of stormwater on the surrounding landscape while simultaneously retaining moisture in the area.

With the installation of the parking lot and sidewalk, visitors to Vincent Bluff have increased. Many people use the area for walking exercise. There is a resident flock of turkeys which frequent the parking lot also.