Photo: Joey Gale
Drake’s prairie may look like a patch of un-kept weeds, but it is actually a unique educational resource used by many environmental science classes. Located on the north side of Meredith Hall and lying directly across from Cline Hall, the prairie is a visible symbol of natural wildlife on campus.
The prairie was started by Nikki Guillot in 2002 as part of the Environmental Taskforce set up by the student government.
“We were tasked with drafting proposals for projects that could integrate the environment and academic programs,” Guillot said.
The prairie started as a proposed project that would receive funding. After careful researching and planning, it was installed during the fall semester of 2002 with the help of Keith Summerville, assistant professor of environmental science and policy, and Tom Rosburg, professor of biology, among other volunteers. Guillot graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science in 2003. She resides in Lenexa, Kan., working as a stormwater specialist.
“I am still passionate about the prairie and bringing the beauty and character of native landscapes to a broader audience,” Guillot said.
On Sept. 9, a meeting was held at Drake to discuss the future of the prairie. Among those who attended the meeting were environmental science faculty and students, student senate members and Jolene Schmidt, the director of operations and support services for Drake University.
The group discussed the future of the prairie and what could be done to improve the aesthetics. Among the ideas proposed included moving the prairie to another location. As it stands, the prairie will stay in its current location, but there are plans to spruce it up a little to make it more visually pleasing.
During the discussion it became apparent that faculty and students who are not involved in the environmental science and policy program are generally not aware of the significance of the prairie. Many classes in the environmental science department use the prairie to perform experiments and collect data.
Junior Michael Riebel attended the meeting as the buildings and grounds liaison for student senate and was unaware of the educational resources it provided for science students.
“Before today I had no idea what the prairie was used for or that it had a significance at all,” Riebel said. “It doesn’t look like much when you are just walking by on campus. Awareness needs to be raised.”
In the past few years the prairie has been somewhat neglected. This school year, however, students and the environmental science faculty members will make a huge effort to clean it up and renew the beauty of the natural wildlife.
Rosburg plans to head a committee that will oversee the maintenance of the prairie. Rosburg has contributed to multiple publications concerning wildlife prairies, and in 2009 he was awarded the Prairie Advocate Award by the Iowa Prairie Network.
“The prairie represents a natural system,” Rosburg said. “It is not supposed to be 100 percent neat and clean. That’s the educational aspect that we need to show the rest of campus.”
Rosburg and the members of the Drake Environmental Action League will work together to clean up the prairie.
Plans for the prairie include removing weeds, cutting back the surrounding grass and planting more forbes. Forbes is a type of plant that is essential to a prairie not only for aesthetics but also to aid in making the soil rich.
“Planting more forbes around the edge will make it more like a garden visually,” Rosburg said.
The renewal plans will help resolve some of the complaints that have been made about the aesthetics of the prairie.
There are also plans to add signs that will explain the historical significance of the prairie so that the Drake community can appreciate the hard work of those who started it and who have maintained it.
During Earth Week, DEAL will sponsor activities and include a day devoted to awareness of the prairie.