Ciha Fen preserve

Published August 2012

Imagine exploring 80 acres of sand prairie, wetlands and savanna where over 225 native species have been identified to date, many of them classified as rare, endangered or threatened. Because this land also harbors a few animals that are listed on Iowa's list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need, you might also spot a non-venomous western hognose snake or a yellow-marked Blanding's turtle.

Nature enthusiasts of all kinds have the opportunity to encounter these rare species as Ciha Fen Preserve in Johnson County is now open to the public.

INHF helped the Johnson County Conservation Board acquire this preserve, located southeat of Sutliff, in 2011 from Howard and Phyllis Ciha. Its southern half is partially forested with some magnificent, open-growth white oaks and black oaks. It's also home to several fen-type wetlands, the largest of which contains a nutrient-poor fen, often identified by a floating mat of vegetation - a wet peat deposit - at least 10 feet deep.

A nutrient-poor fen takes literally eons to form. Fed by groundwater seepage, the water bubbles to the surface through buried sand and gravel left behind by glaciers. Over time, this process forms peat soils. Compared to a bog, a nutrient-poor fen has only a slightly acidic pH water chemistry.

The state's only other known nutrient-poor fen is found in Deadman's Lake in Pilot Knob State Park near Forest City.

Now that the preserve is open to the public, the biggest challenge is allowing visitors to enjoy and explore this delicate place. To help, the northern half of the property was acquired as a protective buffer to convert from agricultural use to native vegetation.


This floating mat of peaty vegetation is characteristic of a nutrient-poor fen and is seen at the newly protected Ciha Fen Preserve.
Photo by Linda and Robert Scarth.

Project leadership

  • Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation worked with the family to begin land preservation and convert property for public use.
  • Johnson County Conservation Board will limit development of the property as well as manage and maintain the preserve.

Major sources of funding