Steele Prairie Preserve

Prairie photo by Mary Ann Montgomery

Prairie Clover photo by Doug Harr

Turk's Cap photo by Roger Sparks


The T. H. Steele Prairie, Larrabee, Iowa
The following is reprinted from the dedication ceremony hand-out of September 11, 1987.

"In 1945 Dr. Ada Hayden, the pioneer protector of Iowa's prairies, remarked that this land "was a fine example of a true prairie with a rich flora in excellent condition . . . a very colorful example of a rare and vanishing flora." On its rediscovery in 1972, former Iowa Nature Conservancy Trustee, Dr. Roger Lammers, reported enthusiastically that it rivaled the other four great remnant prairies in Iowa: Hayden, Caylor, Kalsow, and Sheeder.

Indeed, one of the last large remnants of Iowa's rare and vanishing tallgrass prairies, these two tracts, totalling 200 acres, are officially named the T. H. Steele Prairie. This naming honors the patriarch of a family whose generations continued the old tradition of making prairie hay on this land, steadfastly resisting economic pressures to develop it into "improved" pasture or cropland. Future generations of Iowans owe a debt of gratitude to the Steeles for their conservation practices and farsightedness in preserving this living addition to Iowa's prairie jewels.

Steele's rich biota includes over 141 species of plants, 32 species of vertebrates and 17 species of butterflies. Among these are relatively large populations of two of the state's rarer species, the small white lady's slipper, Cypripedium candidum, and the western prairie fringed orchid, Platanthera praeclara. The prairie fringed orchid is soon to be a candidate for federal protection. There are two major plant communities in Steele Prairie. Mesic or dry prairie covers 80% of the upland with tall grasses such as big bluestem and plains porcupine grass and myriad wildflowers. Drainage ways harbor the wet prairie sedge meadow community dominated by sedges, blue jointgrass and chordgrass.

In a cooperative effort with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, The Iowa Nature Conservancy has committed itself to raise funds from the private sector for 50% of the purchase price plus transaction costs and a permanent stewardship endowment to complete the Steele Prairie protection project by 1989. The remaining purchase price amount will be from the Iowa lottery funds through the far-sighted "natural diversity" component of the Iowa Plan. Upon completion of the fundraising project, the Iowa Nature Conservancy will transfer title to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources which will manage the lands under a cooperative agreement involving the Cherokee County Conservation Board and the Iowa Nature Conservancy."

In the years prior to the public acquisition of these parcels, the Montgomery family members had participated in harvesting the prairie grasses annually. The hay from these grasses supplied excellent winter feed for the Montgomery cow herd. The prairie terrain was rough and the grass stems were tough. The work was difficult, but the surroundings were beautiful, and this beauty did not go unappreciated.

It was with great pleasure that the Montgomery family attended this dedication ceremony in 1987. Others present on the T. H. Steele Prairie that day included Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad; the Chair of the State Preserves Advisory Board of the Iowa Nature Conservancy, Paul Christiansen; the Vice-President of the Nature Conservancy, John Humke, the chair of the Cherokee County Conservation Board, James Cunningham; and the State Director of the Iowa Nature Conservancy, William W. Crews.

A LINK to THE PRAIRIE PROJECT located near Sheldon, Iowa, and under the direction of Bruce Morrison of NWICC.