Monarch Magic in Ames Was a Day of Adventurous Fun!

Monarch Magic in Ames Was a Day of Adventurous Fun!

Prairie Rivers of Iowa hosted the family-friendly event Monarch Magic on Saturday, September 9 at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames. Attendees had the experience of tagging a monarch butterfly to help scientists track their migration and participated in many fun activities to learn more about this butterfly and other pollinators.

Over 300 individuals were in attendance and participated in diverse activities that ranged from an obstacle course and other activities where kids had fun while learning caterpillar and pollinator survival tactics to helping local scientists and naturalists weigh, measure, tag, and release monarchs. One hundred and forty-six monarchs were tagged during the event.

Besides the primary goal of tagging monarchs to aid in tracking their migration to Mexico, pollinator education was front and center as well. Raising Readers in Story County gave away over 200 pollinator-themed books. Other partners like Story County Conservation, the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach /4-H Youth Development, and Bird Friendly Iowa shared their knowledge throughout the delightful adventure had by all.

Monarch being release after tagging during Monarch Magic event.

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Pollinator Conservation Specialist said it best, “The magic of the event was seeing a kid holding an insect, some for the first time, and participating in community science by tagging a monarch and setting it free!”

The ISU Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, ISU Entomology, and Prairie Rivers of Iowa board members were on hand to share their expertise while helping with tagging.

This event would not have been possible without the support of Alliant Energy, the City of Ames, the Outdoor Alliance of Story County, and the Friends of Ada Hayden Heritage Park.

Welcome Center On Unique Five-Mile Stretch

Welcome Center On Unique Five-Mile Stretch

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Coordinator Jeanie Hau also contributed to this article.

Currently, the Lincoln Highway Traveling Exhibit is at the Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center located three miles northeast of Missouri Valley, Iowa. So we thought there was no better time to tell you about this exceptional complex. Owned and operated by Harrison County Conservation, the welcome center is on a unique five-mile stretch where three of Iowa’s Scenic and Heritage Byways coexist — the Western Skies Scenic Byway, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, and the Prairie Rivers of Iowa-managed Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway. Furthermore, the complex is listed as a welcome center for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

omplex and conservation area which includes: a historical village, a playscape incorporating the Lincoln Highway theme, an old gas station turned into picnic shelter, one of Iowa’s 99 Freedom Rocks, an original Lincoln Highway Marker in its original location, and a mile long concrete and limestone hiking trail through a portion of Loess Hills. To top off the view from the complex, there is a balcony spelling out, “Lincoln Highway” and a station to take a selfie at.

The complex and conservation area includes a historical village, a playscape incorporating a Lincoln Highway theme, an old gas station turned into a picnic shelter, one of Iowa’s 99 Freedom Rocks, a Lincoln Highway Marker in its original location, and a mile-long hiking trail through a portion of Loess Hills. To top off the view from the complex, there is a balcony spelling out, “Lincoln Highway” and a selfie station. It’s wonderful to fill visitors in about the highway and how it got started,” boasts Welcome Center Program Director Kathy Dirks, “The center’s auditorium showcases historical photos of the Lincoln Highway many of which depict locations a traveler can still see today.”  Some Lincoln Highway in Iowa images that are on display include the First Seedling Mile, the Honey Creek Cut, the Iowa Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, and Lincoln Way in Ames that many visitors find it hard to believe was once a muddy road Dirks remarked.

Harrison County Welome Center Playscape
Welcome Center Lincoln Highway Viewpoint
Old Gas Station Picnic Shelter
Story County Conservation – Prairie Rivers of Iowa Featured Partner

Story County Conservation – Prairie Rivers of Iowa Featured Partner

Connecting people with nature and improving natural resources — making Story County a great place to live, work, and recreate. — Story County Conservation’s Mission

Story County Conservation (SCC) maintains over 3,500 acres of parks and natural areas like prairies, wetlands, and oxbows. Special areas of focus include preserving native environments and habitat restoration, stopping the spread of invasive species,  and water quality improvement.

Recreationally, SCC offers a variety of outdoor leisure opportunities and quality recreational facilities that feature fishing, bird watching, camping, hiking, swimming, picnicking, boating, bicycling, and hunting.

They are instrumental in helping landowners develop and manage wildlife and habitat plantings and maintain vegetation along Story County roadways.

Their outstanding environmental education program works with school districts and daycares to provide programming and outdoor field trips that promote environmental awareness and fun. Visit their website here for all the details!

Story County Conservation


Prairie Rivers:  Why is it important for Story County to partner with Prairie Rivers of Iowa?

Story County ConservationThe mission of Story County Conservation is to connect people with nature and improve natural resources – making Story County a great place to live, work, and recreate.  This is only possible through meaningful partnerships.  Prairie Rivers of Iowa shares many of the same values and objectives.  Public-private partnerships leverage the unique abilities of each.  The Prairie Rivers/Story County Conservation partnership specifically provides feasible and meaningful improvements to the environmental and social fabric of the community. Through the partnership with PRI, SCC can engage residents through a volunteer citizen water monitoring program. The data collected twice a month is used by PRI to analyze trends and hotspots for pollutants in the county. The volunteer water monitoring program is part of a 10-year water monitoring plan developed by PRI, SCC, the City of Ames, the City of Nevada, the City of Gilbert, the City of Huxley, Iowa State University, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Izaak Walton League, Story County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Story County Community Foundation. Additional initiatives worked on by the SCC/PRI partnership include watershed boundary signage, creek signage, creek and river clean-ups, watershed assessments, and water quality education.


Prairie Rivers: What is the first or most important thing that comes to mind that Story County Conservation has done to inspire citizens to get out and make a difference to improve conservation efforts within the county?

Story County Conservation:  Story County Conservation engages with people in many contexts to break down barriers to help connect people with the outdoors. Whether it be through classroom programs, discovery hikes, outdoor recreation opportunities, environmental stewardship education, and involvement, or simply opportunities to enjoy nature, SCC helps people discover the values of the natural environment.

Story County Conservation Watershed Coordinator Sara Carmichael During Creek Cleanup
Small Landowner Workshop
Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring
Jerry Radke Leaves a Legacy

Jerry Radke Leaves a Legacy

Jerry Radke of Nevada, Iowa was a conservationist known for his hard work and a “yes I can” attitude with a passion for improving soil and water quality. At Jerry’s request, after his passing last fall, Prairie Rivers of Iowa received many generous donations in his memory, helping us and the citizens of Story County continue his legacy and the important work involved.

His love for the outdoors and the environment started on the family farm where at a young age Jerry helped work dairy and beef cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, and geese. Jerry would tell the story about how at the age of three his father put him on a tractor where he had to stand and brace his head against the seat so his feet could reach the pedals.

Jerry attended a one-room school through the eight-grade, went on to graduate high school, earn a bachelor of science in soils from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a master’s in soil physics from Iowa State followed by a return to Wisconsin to earn a Ph.D. in soil physics.

Jerry Radke
Jerry Radke volunteering during a Story County Arbor Day event.

Jerry Radke (left foreground) volunteering at a Story County Soil and Water Conservation District Arbor Day event.

During his professional career as a soil physicist, Jerry worked at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Minnesota then retired from the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research at the National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames. His work took him around the world while he continued to study soil structure, soil temperature, and instrumentation. His published articles included research related to freezing and thawing soils, plus the effects of water and nutrient movement within soil profiles.

Here at Prairie Rivers, we primarily got to know Jerry through his service as a Story County Soil and Water District (SWCD) Commissioner. When asked about what was the most important legacy that Jerry left for the citizens of Story County, his daughter Katrina Radke had a hard time pointing to just one thing. He was deeply involved with the SWCD and Story County conservation projects, the Lions Club, and the church.  “He always wanted to do what was best for the soil, conservation, nature, and recycling,” Katrina shared. “He always had a compost pile and was into reusing everything as much as possible rather than wasting it.”

“Some of our most cherished family memories were hiking and camping in Minnesota state parks and national parks throughout the country,“ Katrina fondly remembers, “Obviously, his value for the environment was big. Something else I view as a legacy from him was the good old-fashioned values of discipline, hard work, pursuing what you love to do, and immersing yourself in it. He was a very honest working good man with integrity and high expectations. Being of service to humanity and the land was important to him.”

Katrina concludes with, “I loved my dad very dearly. He was very much a part of my life in terms of a creative voice and teacher.”

If you’d like to reach out to Jerry’s family with a note, please email his wife Susan at or his daughter Katrina at

Here at Prairie Rivers of Iowa, we are grateful for the memorials given in honor of Jerry Radke and his family. If you or a loved one have questions about establishing a memorial to assist Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s work, please contact our Director Penny Brown Huber.

Hardin County Conservation’s Chris Barber Joins Prairie Rivers Board

Biologist Chris Barber has been elected as Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s (PRI) newest board member. Chris’s know-how as the interpretive park manager for Hardin County Conservation’s Calkins Nature Area will be beneficial to PRI’s conservation efforts. In his role at Calkin’s, Chris oversees the management of 76 park acres covered in prairie, forest, riparian, and wetland habitats along the banks of the Iowa River. Park visitors can also experience a nature center, museum, live wildlife display, butterfly house amphitheater, hiking trails, and bird observatory.

Chris Barber holding a rose-breasted grosbeak at the Calkins Nature Area.

Chris Barber befriending a rose-breasted grosbeak at the Calkins Nature Area.

Screech owl show and tell.

Screech owl show and tell.

Barber has a biology degree from the University of Northern Iowa with an emphasis on ecology and systematics. He worked and studied at the Tallgrass Prairie Center while earning his master’s in biology. He also served as an infantryman in the Iowa National Guard and worked for two years at the University of Nebraska as a research technologist in grassland ecology. As if that’s not enough, he’s also on the Ellsworth College Conservation Technology Advisory Board and an adjunct instructor for the conservation department.

When he finds some spare time, Chris enjoys fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking, and golf. However, spare time priorities tend to focus more on enjoying spending family time while attending school events like sports, band concerts and plays.

I recently had a chance to ask Barber a few questions. Here’s what I found out:

What made you decide to join the Prairie Rivers of Iowa Board?
I have always been passionate about conservation in the state of Iowa.  I’d had a meeting with Director Penny Brown Huber a few years prior and was somewhat familiar with Prairie Rivers’ mission so I was excited for the opportunity to serve on the board.  After a deeper dive into the organization I’ve been thoroughly impressed with all the work that is currently being done, and I look forward to being a part of it.

I know you’re new, but if you’ve given it any thought, what might be something you hope to accomplish and/or what direction you’d like PRI to take?
As with any non-profit organization, funding is always an issue so I would love to see continued growth in that area, and I think that will also improve our public awareness.  I’m a prairie guy so I would love to see us involved in projects that promote the use of prairies in an agricultural landscape which is crucial for improving water quality and expanding habitat.

How do you see your role at Harding County Conservation fit with what we are doing here at Prairie Rivers?
I definitely think my role here at Hardin County Conservation ties closely with what Prairie Rivers is accomplishing.  My goals at Calkins Nature Area and Museum of educating the public about conservation issues, preservation and expansion of native habitats, and the preservation of historical artifacts go hand in hand with the goals of Prairie Rivers.

Please welcome Chris! We are excited to be the beneficiaries of his vast experience and enthusiasm! As a member of our community, you will too.

Family adventure in Costa Rica.

Family adventure in Costa Rica.

Working a prescribed fire.

Working a prescribed fire.

Nice smallmouth catch.

Nice smallmouth catch!

Photos courtesy of Chris Barber and Hardin County Conservation.