Saving the prairie for generations to come

posted by Guest Blogger on Thursday, February 17, 2022

Guest blog post by Jim Fritz

My grandfather was born in 1900 and lived nearly all of his life in Fayette County just south of Hawkeye, Iowa. He grew up playing in the fields surrounding their farm. As a child he remembers seeing Native Americans watering their ponies at the windmill on the land that is now the Fritz Prairie. As he later turned over the rich prairie soil with a moldboard plow he found dozens of arrowheads further proving others had walked there before him.

Fritz Prairie in Fayette County IowaEven as the soil went from grasses to corn rows, a few acres were left untouched, ungrazed, and undisturbed by man. Still, the wetlands changed as tile lines moved the water through the fields more efficiently. Slowly, the wetland slough started drying up and the wildflowers, without the reanimation by fire, slipped away as prairie fires became a thing of legend.

My grandfather and his daughter, my mother, could name all the prairie flowers we would find. Grandpa even knew their Latin names. My mom was in heaven when she found a new wildflower, even if it were sole remnant. Both my parents felt strongly about the land they farmed. My dad spoke in reverential tones of the value of the black soil below our feet. They both instilled in my brothers and I a love and respect for the land. It was always their hope that someday the prairie would be restored.

After our dad’s death it became obvious that none of us would farm the land as had been done by 3 generations of our family before us. None of us wished to manage nor own the land. I began looking for buyers and slowly sold off parcels of our 2 melded family farms. When it came to the prairie I just knew it wouldn’t be left for the plow. I started to research options and finally was able to work with Brian Fankauser from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Rod Marlatt of the Fayette County Conservation Board.  

Fritz Prairie SignWith these two organizations and additional backing from the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service), we were able to permanently protect the original 40+ acres of prairie remnants as well as buffer them with an additional 70 acres of re-seeded/re-established prairie grasses and forbs in an area now known as Fritz Prairie.  

The current bill before the Iowa Legislature, SSB 3134, threatens the ability of conservation organizations to purchase land for parks, trails, preserves, watershed protection, and wildlife habitat. It makes it harder for private landowners sell their land for public use, punishing Iowans who wish to protect and develop treasured public spaces in their communities for the future. A bill such as this would have made the creation of the Fritz Prairie impossible.  

It is a horribly misguided bill being pushed upon Iowans at the behest of those who’s only vision for Iowa is corn rows as far as the eye can see.

Wetlands at Fritz Prairie

Iowa should not be 100% corn fields and CAFOs. We should honor the heritage of the land.

Now, following a planned burning of the Fritz Prairie, the prairie is alive with blooms and ancient plants: Compass Plant, Blazing Star, Rattle Snake Master, False Indigo, and much more, once again reminding us of what Iowa looked like before settlers arrived. The wetlands are filling, beaver have returned, as have many ducks and geese who had simply flown by before. We even have a nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes in the pond.

Fritz Prairie BloomsThe prairie has returned to its natural form. It feels ancient and natural.

As I walk through acres of Giant Bluestem grasses taller than my 6’4” frame, and if I squint my eyes, I can almost see the Native American ponies again watering along the creek just as my grandfather did a century before me.

About the Author

Jim Fritz is former Fayette County resident who now resides in Decorah, Iowa. 

  1. conservation
  2. iowa legislature

About The Author

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