There is a natural gem on the west side of Decorah, and late summer is an excellent time to visit. It is the Decorah Community Prairie and Butterfly Garden. Right now you will find it ablaze in color with a wide variety of native prairie plants (forbs) in bloom. And native prairie grasses are about to “seed out", adding more texture to the landscape.
This prairie was established in 2002 when the city council voted to convert city-owned floodplain to native prairie to act as a buffer along the Upper Iowa River, thus protecting the water quality of the river. Thirty-four acres now compose this part of the Decorah Parks system. In addition, funds were obtained to establish a butterfly garden, designed to act as a source of larval food and nectar for butterflies and as an educational garden area to teach visitors about plants found in the main prairie area.
A dedicated group of volunteers continues to maintain the butterfly garden. Their brochure states: "…the Butterfly Garden was created to introduce visitors to the native plants of the prairie, to provide a place of enjoyment, and to help preserve our native butterflies who through the ages have required these specific plants. The garden invites us to consider this question: Can we pass on what we have inherited?" This group can be found at the garden every Monday from 9-11am. (May to October) For more information on volunteering, call 563-277-1064.
Walk through the prairie on the wide, flat, mowed grass paths and see if you spot the plants you learned about in the Butterfly Garden. The well-maintained paths are used by walkers and runners in the summer and snowshoers and skiers in the winter. Discover this place now and then enjoy it though the seasons. Wander along the river, under a large burr oak tree and even next to an effigy of a falcon. Rest on a bench or enjoy a picnic at the picnic table under the sun/rain shelter. Listen to the birds, watch for butterflies (5 different species identified on a recent visit) and other insects, and spot white-tailed deer. The garden itself has paved walkways that loop through it, accessible to strollers and wheelchairs.
The Decorah Coummunity Prairie is a wonderful, peaceful spot.
To find it follow these directions:
From 5th Ave, go south on Ohio Street until you reach the gravel drive that goes up and over the dike (levee) to the parking area by the butterfly garden. The Prairie can also be accessed from the west end of Mound St.
For mapping purposes:
Enter the address of Aase Haugen Homes (104 Ohio St.), which is the closest neighbor.
Brochures about the Butterfly Garden and Community Prairie can be found at the Decorah Visitor Center, 501 West Water St.
Don’t miss the chance to experience the beauty of a restored Iowa prairie….it's definitely more than just grass.
*Photo source: Author