History and future of the Dordt prairie

Elizabeth Helmkamp- Staff Writer

It is a sunny September day in the Prairie, and the flute-like trills of crickets rise and fall in the grass. As the wind brushes through the grass and the purples and yellows of the flowers show through the natural greens and golds, a butterfly flits by and lands gently on a flower: It’s another normal day in the Dordt Prairie. Dordt College students and Sioux Center residents enjoy the Prairie as a place to spend time in nature. How did this place come to be?

Professor Robert De Haan says that on one Earth Day in the 1970s, Dr. Del Vander Zee had the idea to start a small prairie in the area where the Campus Center and parking lot are now. Many people enjoyed the prairie until the administration built the Campus Center in 2002. However, the administration promised they would find a new place for the prairie.

In 2003, the college purchased the Kuhl farm, an ideal place to start a prairie.

The project proposal calls it a “sage meadow prairie,” which thrives in wet areas and filters rainwater runoff. At the time the project was proposed, the toxin levels in the runoff from Dordt’s campus were above limits set by Sioux Center.

No progress was made until 2006 due to financial reasons. That year, De Haan attended a conference where an unnamed donor, wanting to support prairies in northwest Iowa, approached him and offered to help fund the prairie.

The process of seeding the prairie began in 2007 and ended a year later. First, a crop of soybeans helped prepare the land and get rid of weeds. After tilling the land in the fall, a group of students and professors planted the seeds so everything could bloom in the spring. For the first year and a half, the prairie was mowed every few weeks to keep weeds from choking out the perennial plants.

What is the future of this iconic piece of Dordt?

Howard Wilson, Vice President and Chief Admin Officer of Dordt, said that the master plan showed a strong possibility of a road cutting through that area, but the plans are not concrete. He stressed that the project would be in the far future.

There are three possibilities for the location of the road: across the east side of the Prairie by the soccer fence, through the middle of the Prairie, or up the west side.

“We found that the community opinion, both the campus and community, was somewhat anxious about a middle way across the Prairie,” said Wilson, “At a certain point it may become necessary in the devwrelopment of the campus, but our goal would be to make it as unobtrusive as possible.”

Renee Ewald, Sustainability Committee chair, said: “Honestly, I am a little disappointed [by plans to cut through the area]. The reason the Prairie holds so much value is because it is untouched and it is a place you can go to get away.”

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