Irvine Prairie

About Irvine Prairie

Irvine in bloom


‌We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who loved it and understand it are the people who own it — for a little while. 

Willa Cather, O Pioneers!


A Vision for the Land

Irvine Prairie is a 292-acre prairie-in-progress located near Dysart, Iowa in northwest Benton County. The land was donated to the UNI Foundation by Cathy Irvine in memory of her husband David. In partnership with Cathy and the farm operator, we are restoring an ecologically diverse tallgrass prairie that engages current and future generations of students and community members in learning about Iowa’s prairie heritage and appreciating the benefits provided by prairie.

Cathy Irvine’s vision is to create a place where people can see what Iowa used to look like. No one has the power to bring back the ancient tallgrass ecosystem, which was more complex than we can begin to know. But Irvine Prairie will stand as a permanent invitation to experience something vast, to be surprised and filled with awe by the life of the prairie. 

Irvine initially signed the land over to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, who attached a permanent conservation easement before signing the land over to the UNI Foundation. Regular oversight by INHF ensures that the prairie’s conservation purpose is maintained for perpetuity. The original 77 acres was dedicated on May 18, 2018.  In January 2023, Cathy donated an additional 215 acres to complete the gift.  

With Cathy’s gift, the Tallgrass Prairie Center and UNI students have the rare opportunity to test advanced techniques in prairie restoration and management. First and foremost, this is a gift for the surrounding rural community, schoolchildren, and all those who are lifted up by spending time in nature.

Since 2018, we have introduced over 100 species of native prairie plants, using the most genetically diverse and regionally appropriate seed sources available and closely matching species with soil moisture conditions. Some hard-to-establish species are started in our greenhouse and introduced as plugs. The Tallgrass Prairie Center uses the best known approaches to controlling weeds and encouraging diverse, native wildlife. We are committed to documenting the work, and carefully monitoring the results, to guide future management decisions.

Please see these pages for more information on visiting Irvine Prairie on your own or with a group:


History of the Irvine Farm

The 292 acres in northwest Benton County that are becoming the Irvine Prairie were donated by Cathy Irvine in her husband David Irvine's name. David and Cathy had lived on the farm containing those acres since 1970. David's mother, Viola Mehlhaus Irvine, inherited the farm when her parents died in 1942. David's father, David Irvine Sr., was serving in the Pacific at the time of his in-laws' deaths. After the war, David's father chose to farm rather than return to his teaching profession. The elder Irvines farmed together until poor health caused them to retire from active farming. By that time David and Cathy were living on the farm, with David operating the row crop production and Cathy working as a special education teacher in the Waterloo school system. Love of the land and curiosity about the history of the area led to David and Cathy's interest in Iowa's prairie roots. John Madsen's book, Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie, focused their attention on the diversity and vastness of Iowa's prairies. Thus, when David passed away in 2016, Cathy pursued the restoration of a portion of David's legacy farm as a prairie to ensure that Iowans have access to the contentment and beauty of our native landscape. We welcome visitors and school groups to Irvine Prairie. 

Irvine Family Homeplace

Irvine farmstead circa 1950.


Finding Irvine Prairie

Irvine Prairie is free and open to the public. Facilities are limited at the moment, but we encourage and welcome visitors to explore the planted areas. No hunting or motor vehicles are permitted. Please see our Visitors Policy page for more information.

To find Irvine Prairie, navigate to 1174 55th Street, Dysart, Iowa. The driveway on the north is a private drive; please do not use. Park on the south side of the road in the grass, near the stone marker. The road to the site is gravel and may not be passable during spring thaw or after heavy rain or snowfall.

Irvine Prairie Visitors Policy


‌Operating Hours

Irvine Prairie is open sunrise to sunset daily.


  • A portable toilet is available April – October. 
  • There are no picnic tables, shelters or trash receptacles — please bring a blanket if you would like to have a picnic and a bag to carry out your trash.
  • Please pick up after your pet on the trails.  


Map and Parking

  • Find a map and directions to Irvine Prairie on Google Maps.
  • There is a small unmarked grass parking area on the south side of the road near the large rock.
  • Parking is limited; please do not block neighboring driveways or the parking entrance.
  • The road to the site is gravel and may not be passable during spring thaw or after heavy rain or snowfall.
  • Mowed trails at Irvine Prairie will double as fire breaks for prescribed burning. See our trails map for detailed information. Note that trails only exist through the areas that have been planted to prairie. Some of the trails marked on this map are proposed for future years.

‌Field Trips and Tour Groups

For field trips and/or tour groups, please give advance notice so we can do our best to accommodate your needs for a portable toilet or guide. Visit the page Education at Irvine Prairie for more information and to register a tour or field trip.


Visitor Guidelines

Evening walk at Irvine
  • Explore the mowed trails through the prairie, but stay off all adjacent row-cropped agricultural fields.
  • Leashed dogs are welcomed, but clean up after your pet on the trails.
  • Prairie plantings are habitat for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are sensitive to disturbance; please keep your pet on the trail.
  • Bring a bag and carry out your trash.
  • No dumping.
  • No smoking.
  • Alcohol use is prohibited.
  • No hunting, firearms, fireworks, camping, or campfires.
  • No bicycles or motorized vehicles.
  • Visitors are welcome to pick flowers and collect seeds for personal use only. Do not dig up any plants, soil, or rocks, or disturb animals without prior permission. 
  • Do not disturb or remove any research materials such as poles and flags.
  • Do not introduce any plants or seeds or release any animals at the prairie.

Contact Us / Learn More

For questions or more information about Irvine Prairie, please contact: