Controlled prairie burns in Iowa City parks will begin at Hickory Hill Park on Thursday

Hickory Hill Park, March 30, 2021. Jason Smith/Little Village

A controlled burn of the prairie in Hickory Hill Park is scheduled for Thursday, wind and weather conditions permitting, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department said on Tuesday. The Hickory Hill fire is the first of five controlled burns in city parks the department plans for April.

Later in the month, there will be controlled prairie burns in Iowa City Kickers Soccer Park, Sand Prairie Park, Terry Trueblood Recreation Area and Waterworks Prairie Park.

“A comprehensive burn plan was prepared and approved by the Iowa City Fire Department, and considerations will be made for wind direction and required weather conditions,” Parks and Recreation said in a statement. “Privately-owned land areas and structures will be protected, and fire breaks will be established along all sides of the burn area.”

Iowa’s prairies were shaped by the seasonal burns conducted by Native Americans in the centuries prior to the westward expansion of the United States. It’s estimated that prairie once covered between 75 and 80 percent of Iowa. Only about 0.1 percent of the state’s land is now considered prairie.

“Seasonal burning of native vegetation in Iowa promotes species diversity, habitat and suppression of invasive species,” the department said in its statement about the controlled burns.

In addition to eliminating invasive species and creating new room for indigenous plants to grow, controlled burns also leave bare patches of ground that serve as critical habits for birds such as quail and pheasant, and enhances the forage available to other animals native to the prairie.

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