In the Driftless area of Northeast Iowa, there is a unique landform known as hill prairies or "goat prairies." They were given the name goat prairies because their location was so steep, it was thought that only goats could reach them. Due to the absence of fire and encroachment of trees, these rocky prairies are now considered rare and contain many unique and declining species of plants and animals.
Due to declining goat prairies, park staff at Gilbertson Conservation Education Area found an approximate 1/3-acre area overlooking the Turkey River that was almost perfectly ideal for a hillside prairie to be restored. Aerial photos indicate that the area has been clear of trees for at least the last 90 years, although some red cedar, sumac, and prickly ash were encroaching on the area and needed to be removed. After removing the encroaching trees, staff handpicked prairie seed and frost seeded native prairie plants onto the bluff before our most recent snow.
Park staff will monitor the site and perform prescribed burns every few years to set back the woody vegetation allowing the prairie plants more sunlight, space, and nutrients to bloom. In years to come, plants such as leadplant, compass plant, Indiangrass, big and little bluestem, side oats gramma, purple coneflower, blazing star, rattlesnake master, asters, and goldenrods should become abundant on the bluff, and bring a bit of the past back to the area.
After deer season is over, we encourage you to enjoy this scenic area above the Turkey River. This overlook can be found by parking at the Gilbertson Nature Center outside of Elgin and walking the Deer Run Trail. A wooden bench sits atop the bluff in memory of Joy Vanderwoude for all to enjoy the scenery.