The Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), named to honor the inspiring Grinnell College faculty member, botanist Henry S. Conard, is a diverse 365 acre area used for teaching and research by students and faculty. It preserves, and through restoration recreates, a part of Iowa's vanishing natural heritage, providing a resource for the entire college, local schools, environmental groups, clubs, and the general public. Woodland, savanna, restored prairie, and wetland habitats occupy the landscape, along with the Environmental Education Center, the first building in Iowa to receive a Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.
The visual arts provide a natural complement to the scientific studies that occur at CERA. The Center for Prairie Studies encourages and facilitates the use of CERA's resources by art classes, art department faculty, and visiting artists. The work of several artists can be seen at the reserve. British installation artist Andy Goldworthy's sculpture, "Prairie Cairn," created in spring 2001 from native Iowa limestone, stands in a reconstructed prairie near the Environmental Education Center. Inside the building, dozens of delicate seed images by Grinnell art professor Lee Emma Running decorate the windows, walls, doors and floors of the classroom. No longer visible are the ephemeral outdoor artistic works created by Lee's students in various classes, as well as work by students of former Art Department faculty member Will Pergl.
Other artists have used CERA as a source of inspiration for their creative work. Wendy Hollender, a botanical illustrator from New York City, learned about the prairie while visiting Grinnell to give a workshop; she produced sketches and a portrait of rough blazing star that are part of the Center's collection. Artist and photographer Sandy Skoglund created a surreal scene of bright blue leaves in the CERA prairie, a photograph of which is also in the collection. To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of CERA in 2007, the Center commissioned a CERA landscape in pastel from retired Grinnell art professor Bobbie McKibbin. Local photographer Sarah DeLong has taken numerous photographs at CERA, some of which appear on the Center's website and in other Center materials. Outdoor sculptor Patrick Dougherty gathered materials at CERA for use in constructing "Hat Trick" and Linda Gammell and Sandra Menefee Taylor gathered materials at CERA for use at "Seed House," a temporary installation that was part of the 2000 Faulconer Gallery exhibit, "Roots of Renewal."
Sedge Identification Short Course (2000)
Co-sponsored with the Land Stewardship Program of the Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development, this plant identification course was taught by Gerould Wilhelm, a renown botanist with the Conservation Design Forum, Illinois. Participants met at the Grinnell College Conard Environmental Research Area to use both field and lab resources in pursuit of sedge identification skills.
Woodland Wildflower Restoration Workshop (2001)
This full-day workshop resulted from a collaboration among the Iowa DNR Forests and Prairies Division, Iowa State University Botany Department faculty and staff, the Land Stewardship Program of the Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development, and the Grinnell College Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) Manager. Thirty participants from across Iowa and Wisconsin, representing agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners, gathered to take in the most recent information available on how to plan and implement restoration projects with native woodland plants. A two-hour guided field trip to CERA completed the workshop and catalyzed dialogue among participants and workshop leaders.
Campus Landscape Design Charette (2003)
Cheryl Bauer Armstrong, Outreach Specialist at the University of WI, Madison Arboretum, led a workshop on incorporating native plants and ecological restoration principles into the design of the Grinnell College campus landscape. Participants from the college and community worked in small groups to generate landscape design ideas. The workshop culminated in a campus map and posters, showing the proposed landscape design ideas. Posters were hung in the Science building and student center with paper available for people to respond.
Prescribed Burn Plan Development Workshop (2006)
Environmental Education Center, Conard Environmental Research Area. The Iowa Valley RC&D, Grinnell College Center for Prairie Studies, and the NRCS are sponsoring this workshop for technical service providers and private landowners. The purpose of the workshop was to cover the process of planning prescribed fire and NRCS specifications for burning private land enrolled in a USDA program. Topics addressed included why and when to burn, fire behavior, fire control, weather and fire, safety, regulations, equipment, firebreaks, ignition techniques, burn planning, and NRCS specifications and burn plan format.
Drawing for the Naturalist Workshop (2006)
Environmental Education Center, Conard Environmental Research Area. New York botanical artist Wendy Hollender visited campus to extend her creative work to plants of the prairie region and share her blend of scientific illustration and artistry with Grinnell audiences.
Programs and Events
- Prairie and Savanna Field Trips (summer and fall)
- Prairie Seed Collecting (annually in the fall)
- Prairie Seed Cleaning (winter)
- Savanna Restoration Volunteer Workdays (winter and spring)
- Woodland Wildflower Walks (annually in spring)
- Edible and Medicinal Prairie Plants
Festival on the Prairie: A Celebration of Art, Music, and the Land (May 2007)
CERA 40th Anniversary Celebration
Reconnecting with Nature: Outdoor Signs of Life in Winter & Prairie Photograms
Prairie Restoration and Spirituality: A Winter Retreat (2006)
Jane Shoemaker, environmental specialist, also known as "Prairie Mary," led a series of prairie workshops for area elementary children. (2001)
Poweshiek Skipper Day (June 2007)Student Presentations (Oct. 2008)
Andrea Rissing: Iowa Women Farmers and the Local Foods Movement. (Internship)
Amelia Freeberg: Refugee Women Growing New Roots. (Summer MAP)
The Center engages campus and community members in volunteer activities at CERA including prairie seed hand harvesting, prairie seed cleaning, savanna restoration, and environmental education field trips.