Visit or Volunteer

CERA reaches the community beyond Grinnell College to actively engage local public school children and learners of all ages in studying all facets of prairie life. Tours are provided each year for Grinnell alumni, visiting scholars, prospective students and faculty, K-12 students in local schools, conservation organizations, and the general public. The lab facility also conducts field-based workshops open to the public.

Trail Map

Trail signage is in place to guide you along trails through savanna, forest, and prairie habitats.

Full-Color CERA Trail Map

Driving Directions

From Grinnell (the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 146) take Highway 6 west for 10.3 miles. Turn left (south) onto Highway 224. continue 2.2 miles, passing under Interstate 80. Turn left onto South 28th Avenue East (gravel), continue 1 mile. Turn left (north) at first crossing onto East 108 Street South. Follow 1.9 mile to the entrance, following road right as it becomes South 12th Avenue East.

If the gate is locked, please park outside and enter on foot. If the gate is closed but not locked, you may open the gate and drive in, closing the gate when you leave. 


The objectives of the following regulations are to prevent disturbance of research and conservation projects and to preserve the area's aesthetic qualities and natural condition:

  • Motorized vehicles are allowed only on the roads shown on the map. Please park in the designated areas.
  • Bicycles may be used on roads and mowed firebreaks, but not on the woodland trails. Horses are prohibited.
  • We encourage you to hike the marked trails or mowed firebreaks. You may leave the trails, but please do not enter the experimental areas (F and G on trail map). Do not disturb any equipment, flags, stakes, or markers; they may be part of an ongoing study.
  • Removal of anything is prohibited. Please do not pick flowers or disturb plants, fungi, or animals. Fishing and hunting are prohibited.
  • Do not leave any trash.

For Community Explorers

Public programs will be listed on the CERA Calendar. We will also plan special events during Parents' Weekend and Alumni Weekend.

For Educators

CERA is an exciting place to learn about science!

If you don't believe us, just ask a student who has already visited CERA. Below you will read about two of these visits.

North Mahaska Elementary School Science Field Day

The 5th grade class visited CERA in mid-October for a day filled with opportunities to hone mapping and orientation skills, learn about prairies, savannas, and even a few edible and "scratch-n-sniff" plants, figure out what kinds of information a weather station collects, and explore the art of fishing (catch-n-release style) and microscopic pond life. A huge thanks to Mr. Van Hulzen and Mrs. Boots (North Mahaska 5th grade teachers), parent chaperones, the bus driver, and our field technician for making this a fun learning experience at CERA! Let's do it again next year!

Prairie Insect Diversity and Study

Grinnell's Davis Elementary School fourth graders visited CERA again this fall to use microscopes to examine prairie insects that they collected in the field. They also completed a second year of counting and monitoring populations of six butterfly species. The goal of the trip was to enhance the students' current science unit, butterflies and insects, with hands-on outdoor activities. Over a dozen Grinnell College faculty, staff, and student volunteers assisted with the activities. Visit the Center for Prairie Studies website (outreach page) for more details.

Scheduling a Tour

We are very happy to provide tours of CERA for staff, faculty, and students in tutorials and classes from all disciplines on campus. We ask that you contact Larissa Mottl to schedule a guided tour at least two weeks in advance. A typical walking tour to observe and discuss the habitats, restoration work, and experiments at CERA and its lab facility will last 1-1.5 hours. For a tour focusing on a specific topic of interest to your class, please send your class syllabus and discuss your interests with the CERA Manager in advance.

Classes must provide their own transportation to CERA. Plan on a 20-minute drive from Grinnell to CERA taking Hwy. 6.

Trail maps and CERA brochures will be distributed to the group at CERA or you may request that they be sent to you in advance of the trip. Alternatively, download a trail map.

Visit the Center for Prairie Studies website for outreach and special projects. If you are interested in visiting other natural areas near Grinnell, their 2004 (Third Edition) publication Guide to Prairie Sites Near Grinnell, Iowa is available (PDF).

Volunteer Information

There are many ways you can contribute to CERA. As a volunteer you can learn more about natural history, natural resource management and restoration, and environmental education. Volunteer opportunities include seed collecting, seed cleaning, brush clearing, prescribed burning, photodocumentation, biological data entry, assisting with elementary school field trips, leading interpretative tours and wildflower walks, monitoring of field research projects, and other special projects.

Contact the CERA Manager to receive email notifications of upcoming opportunities.

Prescribed Burns

The majority of prescribed burns are conducted in the spring (late-March through early May) and fall (November through December). We have one set of small experimental prairie plots that receive a summer burn treatment in late August.

We plan prescribed burns for experimental prairie plots each year in the spring and fall and each fall for our forest plots. Prescribed burns in other areas are determined year to year based primarily upon management and restoration needs.

Fire is used to control invasive species, prevent establishment of woody species in grassland areas, alter the dominance of certain vegetation types, prepare an area for seeding, or to research the effects of fire on a myriad of physical and biological characteristics of prairie, savanna, and forest ecosystems.

We cannot schedule prescribed burns more than a few days in advance because they depend on weather conditions. Consequently, it is often difficult to find help beyond our core group of faculty and staff. We rely heavily on a pool of volunteers who we can contact via email or phone a day or two in advance of a burn. A final "it's a go" email or phone call is made to volunteers the day of or within a few hours of the start time for the burn.

If you are interested in helping, contact the CERA Manager.

Seed Collecting

Field trips to CERA and other local natural areas are scheduled each year in October to hand collect prairie seed. The seed is used to increase the diversity of species in our prairie reconstructions and often for student research.

Seed collecting is a very relaxing and therapeutic activity that only requires the ability to identify a species or two in fruit.


Restoration work most often involves controlling invasive species and clearing brush and woody debris from savanna and woodland habitats.

Volunteer workdays are typically scheduled in February through April. Gloves, equipment, and refreshments are provided.

Volunteers are needed to provide transportation for others, help with the work, and take photos.

Biological Monitoring

Biological inventories and monitoring help us determine which species we have at CERA, their abundance, and how their presence and abundance may be changing in relation to how the land is managed. Thinning trees, prescribed burning, and invasive species control are a few management tools used regularly at CERA.

We are currently developing databases for major taxonomic groups such as fungi, plants, and invertebrates. The databases will be made available through the CERA website.

You can help us by collecting field data on a taxonomic group of interest to you and by assisting with data entry

Environmental Education

If you enjoy teaching others about our environment and Iowa’s natural resources, you may find assisting or leading a field trip for a local school or community group a rewarding experience.

Consider designing guides and supporting materials for a particular age-group or type of field trip, or designing and leading a field trip.

Photo Documentation

As with biological monitoring and data collection, photographic documentation is an extremely valuable tool for us to capture landscape changes through time and document interactions between people and the landscape.

If you enjoy photography, there are endless opportunities to practice your techniques, while contributing priceless images of the people, places, and things that make CERA such an exceptional resource for Grinnell College

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