Help restore Iowa’s natural landscape, then drink beer, by volunteering to help the Bur Oak Land Trust on Saturday

Big Grove Preserve — photo courtesy of Bur Oak Land Trust

Volunteers are needed to help clear brush at Bur Oak Land Trust’s property, the Big Grove Preserve, this Saturday. There will be beer involved.

On August 19, Bur Oak will be removing invasive species from its Big Grove Preserve adjacent to Coralville Reservoir. (To be clear, this property is not associated with the local brewery of the same name.)

“We depend heavily on volunteers to help with projects like this,” Seth Somerville, property stewardship specialist for Bur Oak explained. Surly Gives a Damn (SGAD), Surly Brewing Company’s community outreach program, is partnering with Bur Oak for the brush clearing.

Iowa City-based Bur Oak Land Trust was founded in 1978 to protect and conserve natural areas in Johnson County and its neighboring counties. Big Grove Preserve, located in the Township of Big Grove, even though its official street address is in Solon, is one of nine local nature areas that have been donated to the land trust. Bur Oak preserves and maintains those properties, which are open to the public. Bur Oak also has 14 conservation easements located on private property in the greater Johnson County area.

“Big Grove is a beautiful 80 acre woodland,” Somerville explained. “There’s a trail network that will bring you right through prairie meadows, woodlands and various lookout spots. It’s a really scenic property.”

At the end of three-hour brush clearing session, volunteers will receive a t-shirt, and a free Surly beer at Red’s Alehouse in North Liberty.

This is the second year SGAD is providing volunteers and beer to help Bur Oak clear invasive species from one of its properties.

“Surly brings a lot of energy, and they’ve brought in a lot of new people who probably wouldn’t know about us otherwise,” Somerville said.

Last year, SGAD helped Bur Oak invasive species from O’Mara-Newport Woods, a land trust property just north of Iowa City.

“Invasive species really crowd out the native flora and fauna,” Somerville explained. “When the native flowers and plants get pushed out, then so do the insect and wildlife who depend on that nutrient source.”

After the invasive species were cleared in O’Mara-Newport, milkweed was planted to make the woods more hospitable to Monarch butterflies. (Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, so the plants are the only place the butterflies lay their eggs.)

This year, volunteers will be helping restore a grove in Big Grove, Somerville said.

“On Saturday, our volunteers will cut and pile brush in a pasture we’re trying to convert back to woodland. We’re hoping either this fall or next spring we can do a tree-planting project to return the pasture to its original state back in the early 1900s.”

Anyone interested in volunteering to help the clearing at Big Grove Preserve should email Somerville at

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