A Year of Revival

The work of conserving land in eastern Iowa is ongoing. It takes thoughtful planning and continual action to change natural places for the better. In addition to a years worth of land management activity across the Bur Oak preserves and beyond, these are some of the highlights of the year. See you in 2024!

1. Brought back Prairie Preview

Prairie Preview, the decades-old and well-loved environmental forum, was revived after being temporarily canceled due to the Covid pandemic.

In March, more than 250 people and 30-plus exhibitors filled the assembly room at the Iowa City Senior Center to learn about and get connected with local and statewide nature-based projects and programs.

Author Connie Mutel was the keynote speaker and shared a message from her newest book, “Tending Iowa’s Land: Pathways to a Sustainable Future.” Other speakers included Larry Weber, director of IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa, and Dr. Tom Rosburg, renowned professor of ecology and botany at Drake University. Thanks to City Channel 4, the program is available to watch online.

Prairie Preview was made possible by ACT, the city of Coralville and Lon Drake.

2. Advocated for Iowa's environment

Bur Oak staff and AmeriCorps members met with lawmakers in Des Moines and Washington D.C. to share the impact of the land trust and national service programs, and the challenges both face.

3. Strengthened partnerships

Many hands make light work and also get more done for Iowa’s land. Throughout the year, the Bur Oak field crew worked with many conservation partners including The Nature Conservancy, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Great Rivers Alliance of Southeast Iowa, county conservation offices and other agencies on land management projects. 

One special project was the Loess Hills Fire Partners’ 8th annual Cooperative Burn Week. The land trust crew joined more than 60 other agencies from seven states and Canada to help maintain the health of Iowa’s largest tracts of remaining native prairie. It was a unique unique opportunity for the Bur Oak crew to build fire line skills on a rare landscape and strengthen partnerships among conservation and fire professionals.

Bur Oak participation was made possible by the Shoen Family Foundation.

4. Supported disaster recovery

In April, Chainsaw Academy, Bur Oak’s chainsaw operating and safety course, doubled as a storm clean-up effort after tornadoes and heavy storms hit at least seven Iowa counties with 60 mile per hour winds.

“It was unbelievable what they came in and did,” said the homeowner where 12 sawyers-in-training and four instructors cut and cleared downed and dangerous trees in rural southeast Iowa City. The course participants were able to get all of the limbs and branches cut up over the 2-day course. The homeowner said it would’ve taken him at least a week.

Bur Oak Land Steward and course director Sarah Lawinger said working at the site was “an excellent way for new sawyers to learn on real storm-damaged trees while helping a member of their community.”

Chainsaw Academy was created after the 2020 derecho that caused massive damage to homes and property, and severe tree loss across Iowa and the Midwest. Bur Oak staff noticed unsafe chainsaw practices during clean-up efforts and created the course to teach basic chainsaw skills using proper techniques and safety gear.

5. Celebrated 5 years of AmeriCorps

Since 2019, Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps members have served more than 55,000 hours in the field to make better habitat throughout eastern Iowa. 

The 5th year of the program started in September with seven new members and two returning members. There was extra reason to celebrate the start of the service year.

Over the summer, the Iowa Boards and Commissions Review committee made initial recommendations to eliminate hundreds of commissions and boards including The Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, the commission necessary for distributing AmeriCorps funds across the state. Due to an outpouring of support and feedback, the committee reversed its recommendation.

AmeriCorps programs have a huge impact on the state and local environment. The land trust has greatly increased its capacity for land management and is able to get more done for the outdoors through national service.

6. Got our groove on

This year marked the start of Belgum Groove, a reimagining of Music on the Prairie, to celebrate a special Bur Oak anniversary.

More than 160 guests came out to hear live music from local artists Brian Johannesen and Dave Helmer, enjoy food from Marco’s and recognize 45 years of the land trust protecting and restoring nature in eastern Iowa. Here’s to another 45 years!

Belgum Groove was made possible by GreenState Credit Union, Hills Bank and a number of dedicated volunteers.

7. Splashed around in the creek

Summers spent outside finding critters, rocks and fossils make the best memories. 

Bur Oak’s free popular family event Crayfish Crawl filled up fast this year. Kids and adults had fun catching crayfish together and learning about the different animals and insects that live in wetland ecosystems. After exploring the creek, guests got to hike around the prairie for nature bingo.

Getting the community outdoors is part of Bur Oak’s mission and Crayfish Crawl will definitely return in 2024.

8. Shared an amazing dinner

Bur Oak’s second annual Golden Hour fundraiser was a little different this year, with a special dinner at the Webster in Iowa City’s Northside neighborhood.

“I’ve never had a meal where each dish is a work of art,” one guest said of the mushroom-themed five-course dinner plus wine pairing. The event was accompanied by an online auction with art from Iowa artists including former University of Northern Iowa art professor John Page and featuring a one-of-a-kind print by Diego Lasansky.

Thanks to everyone who supported by purchasing tickets to the dinner, bidding in the auction or both, the land trust raised more than $14,000 for local plants, animals, land and ecosystems.

Golden Hour was made possible by Dr. Suzanne Stock, Orthodontist, the Webster, Gay and CihaWade Nash – Edward Jones Financial Advisor, Rot’s Bounty Gourmet Fungi and Okoboji Wines.

9. Did more for the community

Bur Oak’s conservation education programs reemerged this year to connect local youth with the outdoors.

AmeriCorps members coordinated with a variety of groups including North Liberty schools, United Action for Youth, Junior Achievement and Tamarack Discovery School to offer fun and educational programs.

Kids learned the importance of prairie plants, how to build a fire and spent time enjoying nature. 

10. Learned more about the land

Dr. Tom Rosburg, Drake University ecology and botany professor, conducted an extensive floristic survey at Corriell Nature Preserve to catalog the different plants across the nearly 200-acre area.

“Over 99 percent of our prairie is gone,” Rosburg said in an interview with The Gazette. “The prairie that we have left is the only prairie that we have that can tell us what used to be. How did this prairie landscape once look?”

Rosburg talked about Iowa’s endangered prairies and his work at Corriell to help us better care for that land.