ISU Grad Students carry a land lover's dreams to the next generation

By Taylor on November 7, 2014 in Blog


On Saturday, Ryan and I were excited to host our 4th volunteer day with graduate students in Iowa State University's Natural Resource and Ecology Management Department. Nine students from this department came and restored remnant prairie in Boone County, on a property that was donated to INHF in memory of a really cool person.

Student leaders from this group reached out to me in the spring of 2013, when INHF's volunteer program (and my journey at INHF) was just beginning… “What can we do?” they asked, and, “When can we start?”. They were looking for a place to apply the skills they were learning; I was a “lone ranger” looking for participants to kick-start our brand new program. It was a natural fit. I was baffled by their eagerness and knew I had to have them as a part of our program, so it began.

After some discussion, the INHF staff and I made a rather ironic connection. We would ask the students if they were interested in giving time at what we know as the “Gardner” place. It was donated in memory of Anna Gardner, a former graduate student in their department. They agreed to do it and both parties were both humbled and excited. And so the first-ever NREM volunteer event was scheduled!

The 80-acre Gardner property was donated to INHF by J.H. Gardner in memory of his daughter, Anna Gardner. From what I gather, Anna was a loveable, driven individual with a strong passion for the land. Anna passed away in 2006 from complications due to breast cancer treatment. She was in her late 40s. Soon after her passing, her father donated the 80-acre piece to INHF, which has many patches of remnant prairie on it.

Anna's widower, David, lives on an adjacent 60 acres and enjoys tending this site as a volunteer. David has been at each of these NREM events. He tells Anna's story, stories about the land, and guides us through the Des Moines River Valley hills to the work sites (and often, we can't keep up!).

“These students can do more in 3 hours than Anna and I could have done in a day”, David explains with a smile. “It's really something to watch the land transform before your eyes.”

The land has really responded. In the last 2 years, these ISU students, a Conservation Corps Iowa crew, and some INHF staff have worked on two areas of prairie remnants on the property and they are now flourishing with different prairie grasses and flowers. We have truly watched these prairies come alive!

I’m not sure that the students know exactly what it means to Ryan and I, to David, to INHF, to all of those that follow INHF, when they show up and give their Saturday mornings to this land. Or maybe some of them do know exactly what it means, and that’s why they show up. Either way, we are incredibly grateful (and bet Anna would be, too). Without their keen interest and honest enthusiasm, this work would not have been possible.