Hayden Prairie State Preserve
After his epic exploration in 1673, Louis Joliet reported the tall grass prairie to be "three, six, ten, and twenty leagues in length." Expansive and diverse, Judge James Hall wrote about the same prairies in 1839 saying that although the plains may appear level they should be called "rolling" since they resembled "the long, heavy swell of the ocean when its waves are subsiding to rest after the agitation of a storm."
Today, only tiny fragments of the tall grass prairie are left on the landscape and what was once likened to an ocean, exists now only as small isolated islands. It is a rare thing indeed to experience the original tallgrass prairie, especially in Iowa which has less than one tenth of one percent remaining.
The 242-acre Hayden Prairie is a chance to explore a remarkable ecosystem. Regional biologists refer to the tallgrass prairie as "Iowa's rainforest" because of the startling number of species supported. Inventories just at Hayden Prairie have revealed over 200 different plant species, 46 species of native grassland birds and 20 species of butterflies. Bring your identification book and your camera to capture flowers with names as lovely as their blossoms: Shooting Stars, Yellow Lady Slippers, Prairie Smoke and Pale Purple Cone flower.
Hayden Prairie was acquired by the state of Iowa in 1945. It is named to honor Dr. Ada Hayden, who strongly recommended to the Fish and Game Division of the State Conservation Commission that it be protected. Born in 1884, Ada Hayden was not only a passionate botany student—the first graduate assistant at the Shaw School of Botany in Missouri, recipient of a master's degree in botany from Washington University in St. Louis and the first woman to ever receive a doctorate at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University)—she was stalwart in her commitment to learn and throughout her life championed for the understanding and preservation of Iowa's prairie. As Assistant Professor of Botany at Iowa State and acting curator of the herbarium at Iowa State she collected over 30,000 plant specimens and published 29 papers.
While you hike remember this: what you see of the tall grass prairie plants above ground is typically only 1/3 of the plant's height. Some plants have root systems that stretch over 15 feet into the ground!
Hayden Prairie is located 18 miles northwest of Cresco, Iowa. It is state-managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. For more information or any questions regarding Hayden Prairie please call the Iowa Wildlife Biologist - Upper Iowa Unit at 563-382-4895.