History of Iowa Prairie Network
The Iowa Prairie Network is a grass roots, volunteer, organization that is dedicated to the preservation of Iowa's prairie heritage. IPN was formed in 1990 by Iowans concerned that our prairie heritage was disappearing.
Way back in 1990 prairie conservation wasn’t exactly trendy or even popular in our state. After all, Iowans had spent over a century altering the landscape of native prairie to create an agricultural mecca. But a small group of enthusiastic individuals knew it was time for enlightenment and action. While attending the North American Prairie Conference in Cedar Falls that year, these dedicated individuals recognized the need to organize - that’s when the Iowa Prairie Network (IPN) was formed. Their goal was to collaborate with interested individuals, organizations, and government agencies to
locate, protect, and restore what remained of our prairie heritage before it disappeared forever. Together they formulated a platform to share information and help in education and management efforts across the state.
The mission: To learn about, teach about, enjoy and protect Iowa’s prairie heritage.
Since its inception, IPN has done just that. Funds raised through membership fees, silent-auction proceeds, and generous donations have allowed IPN to support prairie-related events such as the Iowa Prairie Conference, Loess Hills Prairie Seminar, and the North American Prairie Conference over the years. We have assisted with land purchases to protect treasured remnants and provided funds for prairie management on public and private lands.
We have also championed the Governor’s proclamation for Iowa Prairie Heritage Week to celebrate our prairies with state-wide events every September. Our dedicated board members plan events in each of Iowa’s seven IPN regions to involve our members and the general public in various stewardship and educational activities. We also organize prairie hikes simply for the fun of it.
The IPN Winter Seminar is our largest and longest running annual event. It has been hosted by Region 5 since 1991 and is held on the last Saturday of January. It has grown from 30 attendees the first year to nearly 200 in 2019. Since 2016 it has been held at Ames High School. This day has been filled with multiple presenters, a variety of vendors, a silent auction, and door prizes. The event typically concludes with a pizza party for those who wish to hang out with old friends and meet new ones. The Seminar has always been free and open to the public.
The old Region 6 (now Region 7) has been hosting its own Winter Meeting in southeast Iowa for around 20 years. The event is smaller than that of Region 5 but includes a featured speaker, potluck meal, and fellowship in the midst of the cold winter months. The participants gather after the meal to plan the monthly events for the coming season.
The IPN Annual Meeting is held in the late summer with the location rotating through each of the regions. It is open to all IPN members as well as the public. We have had meetings at the Lakeside Lab at Lake Okoboji, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Hitchcock Nature Center in the Loess Hills, Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, and the Fossil & Prairie Center at Rockford, among others. It is usually a weekend event with field trips, presentations, meals, and other activities geared toward sharing information and general camaraderie. The official Annual Meeting is held on Saturday and gives
members an opportunity to share ideas with the Board and vote on agenda items.
IPN celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2020. We have had our ups and downs over our 30-year run. There was a time we feared it might not last, but we persevered. In the past few years, we have attracted many new members who bring fresh ideas and passion. We have expanded our social media network to reach a broader audience. Today, ecological and economic values of prairie and native ecosystems are more widely publicized, and more people are motivated to participate in conservation efforts than ever before.
We look forward to the next 30 years and all we can accomplish with the help of others who believe in our mission.
Thank you to our founding members, and early supporters, for their vision, dedication, enthusiasm, passion, guidance, and never-ending inspiration.
Pauline Drobney and Scott Bryant
Joel and Joyce Hanes
Dick Van Deusen
Cindy Hildebrand and Roger Maddux
Phyllis (Kiburz) Tapken
Trish and George Patrick
“The early ‘90’s were a pretty exciting time for conservation in Iowa. There were a lot of things that
budded in that time. IPN started, Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge became a thing, Engeldinger
Marsh was preserved, the Waterman Creek prairie project was hotly disputed but eventually came to be
in a somewhat different form than originally envisioned, and I was asked to scout an area for another
potential National Wildlife Refuge between here and Waterman. It was a time of “awakening” I think,
because there were also exciting developments in neighboring states like Illinois, where Stephen Packard
lit fire under an oak savanna movement and the Chicago Botanic Garden started a prairie reconstruction
(complete with underground irrigation system!). I got to know and was inspired by Gerould Wilhelm,
formerly of the Morton Arboretum and co-author of Plants of the Chicago Region and I arranged for him
to speak in two or three venues so others could hear his perspectives. In Iowa, IPN started, and was one
of several budding organizations in the Midwest that precipitated in some ways, the leading edge of the
conservation wave. And Iowa was at the heart of it because prairie was so nearly gone and we were
saying, ‘No more!’ and were trying to make this a center of prairie rebirth. It was hard work but was
such fun and so inspiring!”
- Pauline Drobney, first IPN President and Founding Member
[1990 North American Prairie Conference] “There was a lot of technical stuff, which is just what I wanted.
I was very enthusiastic and made a lot of friends quickly. There was a guy from Missouri that gave a talk
about the prairie organization in that state. It had been going on for many years and I think was
sponsored by an arboretum. Most of the members were from academia but common folk could be
members too. I am not sure if this sparked it or if it was already planned, but if the folks from Missouri
had a prairie organization why doesn’t Iowa? Word was circulated that there would be a meeting that
evening for anyone who might be interested in starting some sort of prairie organization in Iowa. There
was a good turn out and a lot of discussion.”
- Gene Kromroy, former IPN President and Founding Member
“The participants of the first meetings for the formation of a state-wide prairie group, which would
become the Iowa Prairie Network, first met at Ames, in the (extension? or forestry?) building south of
Highway 30. I’m going to guess maybe a dozen or more participated. We were a blend of prairie
enthusiasts, from grass roots, to academic, to private landowners, to governmental...many of us knew
each other from meeting at various earlier prairie endeavors and field trips. The desire was to bring
together all Iowa’s prairie enthusiasts, for best promotion and benefit to all.”
- Ray Hamilton, Founding Member