3 events, 1 great weekend in the Loess Hills

There’s always a good reason to get outdoors, but this trifecta of events will make it impossible to stay inside. Join Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation in western Iowa over the first weekend of June. We’re celebrating our great state’s natural areas with a combined volunteer event, the dedication of a new Bird Conservation Area and the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar.  Continue reading

Apply Now: INHF’s grant writing summer internship

Are you a strong writer? Apply to be INHF’s program support and grant writing intern and use your skills to help protect Iowa’s land, water and wildlife!

This summer position focuses on writing grants that will provide funding for on-the-ground land conservation. As an INHF intern you won’t be fetching any coffee — the work you do here will make a real difference for Iowa’s natural landscape. Applications for the 2016 summer position are due Thursday, March 17.  Continue reading

Stargazing in Iowa

At the end of September, the total lunar eclipse mesmerized astronomy novices and experts alike. Yet as cool as the blood moon was, it was just one instance of the incredible events that occur in the night sky.

Stargazing is an inexpensive and fun family activity perfect for crisp fall nights, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Below, we’ve compiled a handy guide to get your adventure started.


Photo by David DeHetre via Flickr Creative Commons

“The best places to stargaze are in dark locations away from light pollution of cities,” says Emilee Richardson, Marketing and Communications manager for the Science Center of Iowa. “Within the city, big parks are the best places for viewing.”

See how much light pollution is in your area with this handy map. And if you’re looking for something a little extra, check out these spots with low amounts of light across the state:

Eastern Iowa Observatory and Learning Center
Run by the Cedar Amateur Astronomers, an observatory in Cedar Rapids. The facility holds two telescopes and hosts public observation nights as well as guest speakers. Check out their website for a schedule of upcoming events.

Preparation Canyon State Park
Those looking for a challenge can head to Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa. This fairly untouched part of Loess Hills has walk-in campsites so gazers can easily spend a night under the stars.

Nine Eagles State Park
This park in the southern part of the state is open year-round and is the perfect spot for a night of stargazing. Far away from city lights, Nine Eagles is one of the lesser light-polluted parts of the state. Stargazers can stay the night at one of the campsites or simply lay down a blanket for a few hours.

Drake Municipal Observatory
You can even stargaze in the city! The City of Des Moines and Drake University’s observatory offers an eight and a half inch refracting telescope. The center is open to the public on Friday nights, and each week features a lecture and sky viewing, weather permitting. Check out the Fall schedule here.

When it comes down to it, there’s really not much you need besides a dark sky and your eyes. However, a few tools (that you likely already have at home) can make the experience more enjoyable:

When planets and stars are literally light-years away, they can be hard to spot with the naked eye. You can amp up your seeing power with binoculars or a telescope. Not only will you be able to see in more detail, but you can also focus in on a specific planet or part of the sky.

The sky is most clear during the winter months, so if you’re looking for the best view, bundle up and bring some blankets to keep warm. Hot is chocolate optional, but highly recommended.

Star Chart
Especially if you’re just starting out, a star chart can help you identify constellations in the sky. They vary from month to month, and plenty of free, printable versions can be found on the Internet, like the one here. You can also find several Star Chart apps, but the light from your phone might make it harder for your eyes to adjust to the dark and see the stars.

Stargazing is very much dependent on the weather, so be sure to go on a clear, cloudless night to optimize viewing.

According to Richardson, it’s also important to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark, which can take up to 20 minutes. “This is especially important if you’re trying to catch meteor showers,” Richardson said.

Be sure to check out any up-and-coming astronomical events to help plan your night under the stars. Richardson likes to use the Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events to keep track of what’s going on in the night sky.

Happy stargazing! 


Loess Hills Prairie Seminar

The sun sets over the Loess Hills in Monona County. (Photo by Robert Buman)

The sun sets over the Loess Hills in Monona County. (Photo by Robert Buman)

“Honoring Prairie and the Hills”

Whether avid prairie enthusiast or curious nature lover, you’re invited to join INHF at the 39th Loess Hills Prairie Seminar from Friday, May 29, to Sunday, May 31. Events will be held at the Loess Hills Wildlife Management Area northeast of Onawa and in Onawa at West Monona High School.

The Northwest Area Education Agency sponsors the seminar annually and invites educators, students, park and conservation persons, community leaders, and citizens. A living memorial to found Carolyn Frerichs Benne, a Western Hills Area Education Agency environmental educator, the prairie seminar brings together 300 people of all ages every year to promote conservation, environmental and science education.

Events for families and Iowa citizens of all ages are scheduled throughout the weekend, including campfires on Friday and Saturday nights, a silent auction and breakout sessions about birds, plants, insects, photography, history, soil, geology, ecology, prairie management, journaling, Native American heritage, landscaping and more

INHF members will lead two of the breakout sessions on Saturday, May 30, at the Outdoor Seminar Site:

8:15 a.m. | Landowners’ Conservation Options
INHF Land Stewardship Director Erin Van Waus will shed light on how and why people choose permanent protection for land they own. An introduction to land donations, bequests and conservation easements will be given, as INHF serves landowners who face these decisions.
10:15 a.m. | Place, Purpose and Prairie
INHF Loess Hills Land Conservation Consultant Tim Sproul and INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel will tell the tale of INHF using the story of Turin Prairie. They will share how and why we do what we do.

Volunteer at G.R.A.S.S. (the Great Race Against Shrubs and Shade)


Remove woody species to keep Turin Prairie beautiful.

Join INHF, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and other partners during the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar to explore and volunteer at Turin Prairie on Friday, May 29, at 9:00 a.m.

With thoughts of energy and impact, watch the land transform before your eyes at this annual event. Participants will work in teams to remove brush from the large hillside prairie, which may involve use of chainsaws, loppers and handsaws.

Questions about the prairie seminar should be directed to Dianne Blankenship at bennaid@hotmail.com. Questions about G.R.A.S.S. volunteer event should be directed to Mary Runkel at mrunkel@inhf.org.


An early Earth Day celebration


INHF staff and volunteers collect seed at Turin Loess Hills State Preserve and Wildlife Management Area in Monona County.

According to an article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Earth Day started in 1970 when San Francisco activist John McConnell and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson separately asked Americans to join in a grassroots environmental demonstration. McConnell chose the spring equinox, March 21, 1970, and Nelson chose April 22. Millions of people participated, and today Earth Day continues to be widely celebrated with events on both dates. Continue reading

Iowa Prairie Network Winter Meeting

Prairie enthusiasts rejoice! Saturday, Jan. 17, marks the annual Winter Meeting of the Iowa Prairie Network.

Iowa’s prairie community will come together for a day of education and fun at the DMACC Ankeny Campus. Running from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the meeting will feature presentations from Mary Harris, a member of the ISU STRIPS research program, Dr. Laura Jackson, director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at UNI, and nature photographer Bill Witt. There will be vendor tables, door prizes, and a silent auction. No registration is needed.

cci perkins

The Loess Hills CCI crew will put young people to work with a focus on restoring the ecological health of the Loess Hills in western Iowa.

Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Loess Hills CCI crew. Several conservation agencies, including INHF, are contracting with Conservation Corps of Iowa (CCI) to create a new team of young people focused on restoring ecological health in the Loess Hills. From March to December 2015, they will devote more than 8,000 person-hours towards improving the health of the land.

The Iowa Prairie Network is an all volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of prairie heritage in Iowa. Since 1990, IPN has been a network of advocacy for Iowa’s natural heritage, using its funding to support land acquisition and restoration practices.


INHF Communications team welcomes Joe Jayjack

Joe JayjackJoin INHF in welcoming Joe Jayjack, INHF’s new Communications Specialist. Joe will assist our Director of Communications, Hannah Inman, with media, including social media, Iowa Natural Heritage quarterly magazine, member email and other duties. He is also responsible for maintenance and upgrades for INHF’s website and supervising INHF’s communications intern. Continue reading

David Zahrt: Climate March


David Zahrt with staff members Lisa Hein, Diane Graves, Anita O’Gara and Cheri Grauer

On August 11, David Zahrt visited the INHF office. David worked here part-time until 2010 doing outreach to encourage land protection in the Loess Hills. David and his siblings together protected their multi-generation family land near Turin through INHF. Now known as Reese Homestead, the homestead is owned by Monona County Conservation Board; the prairie hills around it are owned by the Iowa DNR.

After David worked for INHF, he moved to Nevada. He stopped through Des Moines because he has been on the Climate March since March 1st, 2014. The goal of this walk is to change the heart and mind of Americans, our elected leaders and people across the world by stressing the importance of acting now to address the climate crisis. There are 320 marchers on this walk from 37 states and seven countries; 35 members have pledged to walk full time. The walk started in Los Angeles, and marchers average about 15 miles per day. They hope to reach Washington, D.C. by November 1.

We wish David the best of luck on the rest of his journey! To learn more information about the walk, read blog posts, meet the marchers and more, check out their website.


Iowa’s Loess Hills: Faunal Crossroads at the Edge of the Great Plains

DSCN7323On July 23, the 2014 statewide and bluffland land stewardship interns had the opportunity to participate in a program given by Dr. Bill Clark, professor emeritus at Iowa State University, near Turin in Monona County. The theme for the session was “Iowa’s Loess Hills: Faunal Crossroads at the Edge of the Great Plains,” recognizing that there are quite a few species that reach either the eastern or western edge of their range. This was an interactive field trip where Bill educated the interns on the history of the area, followed by a visit to an INHF property and the Turin State Preserve, seeing species such as yucca, skeletonweed and locoweed. Continue reading