We all see it. We all drive through it and we, for the most part, don’t think much about it.  It is that transition that happens when you leave the city limits of a community like Ames and you head into the county or farm land of Iowa.  It is that zone where structured homes and home development transitions to acreages and single family dwellings and continues to small farms or even larger acreages and eventually moves and transitions into the more traditional larger production farming agriculture of Iowa.  This transition area is what Prairie Rivers of Iowa has come to call the Urban Fringe.  It is that land and group of landowners, homeowners, and farmers that occupy that transitions ground between the city and large-scale agriculture. These landowners have chosen to live here for many reasons, some being: more space, aesthetics, fewer neighbors, space for animals and gardens, and the ability do and have more.  The reality is that these landowners have the opportunity to have an impact on water quality and the sustainability of the land in their respective watersheds.

In 2017, Prairie Rivers of Iowa received a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to work with those ‘urban fringe’ landowners in the Squaw Creek Watershed within 5 miles of the northwest corner of Ames city limits. The land is unique. It has seven creeks running through it along with the riparian vegetation that has grown on the creek banks.  Lundy’s Creek, North Onion, South Onion, and Onion Creek, Clear Creek, Worrell Creek, and Squaw Creek all pass through the five mile transition or buffer of traditional agriculture to the urban culture of the City of Ames on the west and northwest corner of Ames.  The landforms and land cover in the Urban Fringe area that make it ideal for the small nontraditional rural landowner, also present some unique opportunities to enhance, sustain, and maintain water quality improvement in the watershed.

There has long been conservation assistance to landowners and producers throughout the state to help landowners/farmers with conservation on their land.  This has come from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and other conservation organizations.  The services or assistance has, for the most part, been directed to farmers and traditional larger land owners.  Prairie Rivers, under a grant provide by NRCS, allows for direct landowner assistance to a group of smaller, non-traditional landowners and producers who may not have been aware of conservation services available.

Prairie Rivers, in the fall of 2017, began to identify and contact this unique group of landowners and to offer and provide on-the-ground, professional conservation assistance.  Now, with just over a years’ work in the lower reaches of the Squaw Creek Watershed under our belts; the work with landowners in the urban fringe is diverse and interesting.  There have been the traditional agriculture practices of water quality practices such as no-till/strip-till and cover crops planted, and a denitrifying bioreactor installed on a tile drainage system.  However, there has been more interest in field buffers and riparian buffer strips, wetlands, native grasses, timber/forest health issues and streambank erosion than we traditionally see in the larger part of the watershed.  We have also been deliberate with creating educational opportunities on specific topics relevant to this type of landowner. A workshop on managing native grass and forb plantings was held this fall, which gave landowners the opportunity to look at the ongoing planting management and seed harvesting practices at the Story County Conservation Department.

As we look to the future with of the Small Landowner/Urban Fringe Project, Prairie Rivers of Iowa will continue to connect and work with landowners in this area and to hold workshops to help share the knowledge of what it takes to install, manage, and maintain conservation practices.

Learn more by visiting our website: https://www.prrcd.org/watershed_waterways/squaw-creek-watershed-small-landowner-program/.