SHEFFIELD — A little bit of North Iowa’s history has been preserved for hundreds of years, and it isn’t located in a museum.
Rather, it’s a prairie east of Sheffield that has remained virtually untouched since settlers came to Iowa in the 1800s.
“This is significant because there are so few remnant prairies in this part of the state,” said Brian Fankhauser, land stewardship specialist for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which owns the property. “North Central Iowa is primarily ag ground.”
The Kothenbeutel Heritage Prairie is 40 acres of land just east of the West Fork Cedar River.
Of those acres one was used as a quarry decades ago, seven were plowed but returned to prairie and 32 acres have never been plowed.
It also includes evidence of stagecoaches going through the area. Prairie burns reveal the trails and they can be seen in aerial shots dating back to the 1930s, Fankhauser said.
“It would have looked just like this, except with fewer trees, pre-settlement,” he said.
The prairie, which is surrounded by crop land, a farm and road, is home to a diverse ecosystem. A high ridge and lower wet areas have allowed for a variety of plants and wildlife to prosper.
More than 250 species of plants, around 40 species of birds and an abundance of other wildlife such as butterflies and insects have been documented at the Kothenbeutel Prairie.
Currently the prairie is a sea of yellow with sunflowers, goldenrod and sneezeweed but includes other flowers such as purple coneflowers and aster throughout the summer.
Big bluestem is also at its peak, Fankhauser said.
“It doesn’t get much more gorgeous than this,” he said.
The INHF purchased the prairie from Daryl Kothenbeutel in 2005.
He had been using it for a prairie seed business but decided to retire. He asked the INHF if it was interested in the prairie and they eventually came to a purchase agreement.
The past several years INHF has been working to keep out invasive species such as trees, sweet clover and wild parsnip.
This has been done by cutting down trees, hand- pulling weeds and burning in select areas.
INHF and other organizations work to preserve and restore Iowa’s prairies because it helps Iowa’s water quality, wildlife depends on prairies and it’s part of Iowa’s history.
“In a way it’s like a museum,” Fankhauser said.