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August 11, 2022

7/22/2016 11:22:00 AM
One of Iowa County's best kept secrets: the Iowa County Prairie
Brooke Bechen
Reporter/News and Features

When Melissa Roelli moved to Dodgeville 12 years ago from northern Wisconsin, what she missed most was the plentiful bodies of water that surrounded her. It was not until someone shared with her information about the Iowa County Recreation and Prairie Restoration area that she found a new place of peace amongst the waves of prairie grasses and plants, blowing gently in the wind.
"I come out here at least once a week," Roelli said. "It's just fun to look at all the flowers."
She brings her camera and sometimes her dog to visit the prairie, an over 400 acre swath of land that is free and open to the public year round. Located approximately five miles west of Dodgeville on County CH and County Farm Road, the restored prairie is home to dozens of species of plants and animals, including several interesting grass dwelling birds.
It all began in 1998 when Walnut Hollow founder David Ladd noticed the county-owned land near Bloomfield Healthcare and Rehabilition Center would likely be rented out for cropland as the land's CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) status was set to expire. He called friend and current Iowa County Recreation and Prairie Restoration board member Peter Vanderloo and told him that he thought something else should be done.
"That was the start," Vanderloo said. "And Dave was the spark plug for it."
Ladd worked hard to convince a dedicated group that the area was a great place to restore a prairie, and in 2003, the land became enrolled in a CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program). With funding generated from the federal CREP, the group is able to provide rent to the county and maintain the property. Plus the prairie utilizes grants, donations and love from volunteers, Vanderloo said.
The CREP is set to expire in 2017, and both Roelli and Vanderloo hope to be able to renogiate the lease with the county and re-enroll in the program. Fortunately, the county has been a great landlord, Vanderloo said.
To introduce residents to the praririe, a free prairie walk and educational program for all ages will be held this Saturday, July 23, beginning at 9:00 a.m. at the Iowa County Recreation and Prairie Restoration property. The walk will be led by Rich Henderson, a research ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and volunteer with the local Prairie Enthusiasts group.
Henderson is just one of many researchers, scientists and enthusiasts who have visited the prairie to learn more about the world around them. Students from area schools, including Mineral Point, Highland and Iowa-Grant, also visit the prairie in the spring as part of a Youth Conservation Day.
"It's a beautiful piece of land and there's opportunity for the citizens of Iowa County to enjoy it," Vanderloo said.
"There's so many things out here that we don't even know," Roelli added. "And how many places are like this? Free and open to the public?"
The walk is sponsored by the Iowa County Recreation and Prairie Restoration Board of Directors, a "working board" of about 12 members. It is recommended walk participants wear long pants and sturdy shoes for the event. Parking is available at the red barn on the property.
For more information on the prairie and the upcoming walk, please visit the Iowa County Recreation and Prairie Restoration Facebook page or email:

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