Welcome to UNI's Biological Preserves
Natural habitat on the UNI campus serves students and the community
The University of Northern Iowa Biological Preserves System is an 88-acre complex of prairie, riparian woodlands and upland forest, open to the public year round. The system includes 5.8 miles of regularly maintained trails, connecting the Preserves with other naturalized areas on the south side of the UNI campus, along Dry Run Creek. UNI students use the Preserves in a variety of courses, especially Biology and Environmental Resource Management majors.
2023 marks 50 years of prairie restoration at UNI!
Students Reflect on the Annual Monarch Count
“One of the things that surprised me was how relaxing it was to be out in the prairie. This gave me a chance to escape for a little bit."
“An interesting take away is the serenity ... You can sit back and enjoy the sounds of nature."
"I saw 3 huge praying mantises just climbing up the prairie grass. Spending time in the prairies made me think about how lucky UNI is to have valuable areas like this."
University Avenue Preserve
This 8-acre tract of lowland forest was established in 1918. Originally used for agricultural field studies, it now forms a shady greenbelt along the middle branch of Dry Run Creek. The City’s bike trail connects Seerley Boulevard to 29th Street.
Photography by Rhianon Kesali
Sanders Garden was originally created as a public shrub exhibit in 1985. In 2003 the Biology Department changed the focus of the Preserve to better meet students' needs. Mowing and trimming ceased, allowing students the opportunity to study the process of natural succession. Ecology students have carefully documented its transformation from a sunny manicured lawn to shady woodland.
Daryl Smith Prairie
Dr. Daryl Smith and his students seeded this 8-acre prairie in 1973 with five species of native warm-season grasses. In the mid-1980s students and faculty rescued plants from prairie remnants that were destined to be destroyed, and transplanted them into the prairie. In the 2000s Biology Masters students conducted overseeding experiments using burning and mowing treatments to add over 30 new forb species. Students help burn the prairie every spring and use it as an outdoor laboratory for several UNI courses. An annual monarch count is held here during the fall migration.
Lowland Forest Preserve
Dry Run Creek’s middle branch intersects the Biological Preserves, flowing northeast to the Cedar River near downtown Cedar Falls. Once a rural creek running through a pasture, the Lowland Forest Preserve is now home to many species of trees and shrubs, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, insects and fungi. This riparian forest mitigates flood risk and erosion for the greater Cedar Falls community. The Department of Earth and Environmental Science maintains a group of test wells for the study of hydrology.
Upland Forest Preserve
The 35-acre Upland Forest Preserve was established in 1981 by planting thousands of acorns and transplanting tree saplings into a former crop field. A Preserves trail connects this forest to surrounding prairies that are maintained by University Facilities Management.
With the highest elevation in the Preserves system, the Upland Forest Preserve hosts the University’s Observatory.
Clay Prairie State Preserve
Clay Prairie is a rare 2-acre remnant of the original tallgrass prairie, located next to the Butler Center Cemetery south of Allison. It was donated to UNI in 1961. Due to its very high quality, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources dedicated Clay Prairie as a State Biological Preserve in 1976. The Tallgrass Prairie Center in collaboration with Iowa Prairie Network provides technical support to local land stewards.