Ryerson’s Woods nears preserve status

BY PAUL OSGERBY | JUNE 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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A unanimous decision last week marks the nearing of Ryerson’s Woods Park becoming the first state preserve in the Iowa City area.

“This guarantees that it won’t get bulldozed and stays a preserve for the rest of its life,” said Mike Moran, the director of Iowa City Parks and Recreation.

Since 1985, when the park was first established, efforts have been made to maintain its natural ecosystem.

Ryerson’s Woods is located just south of Iowa City past the Johnson County Fairgrounds on Old Highway 218.

During a June 17 Iowa City City Council meeting, Diana Horton, a University of Iowa associate professor emeritus of biology, presented the findings of her research to officials.

Horton and UI graduate Sophia Krajewski conducted the analysis in 2010.

The results concluded that compared with 10 area preserves, Ryerson’s Woods holds similar ratios of native species per acre. Additionally, the park has distinct topographic diversity, creating unique trails.

“There’s a robust diversity of native plant species related to invasive species,” said Zachary Hall, the Iowa City parks superintendent.

Ryerson’s Woods has a substantially higher number of infrequent or rare native species than the comparable preserves at nearly 80 percent.

Much of the 49-acre parkland is divided by a deep floodplain, which is a possible reason for the habitat to remain so well preserved. There is a 100-foot difference from the top of the gorge to the bottom of the ravine.

The steep hills would have deterred early farmers from using the land for agriculture.

When the State Preserve Board visited three years ago, members questioned the park’s facilities.

Moran said the parks division realigned its maintenance plan, and in April, the board approved.
Horton and Moran presented the Ryerson’s Woods research before the Iowa Department of Natural Resources earlier this year, and the state-preserve plan was passed.

“It’s truly a remarkable property that many aren’t aware of,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “Not many communities have this — we can make it a special destination.”

The City Council decided, 7-0, to designate the park for the state to hold the property in trust. No further development can be made.

The Iowa City Parks Division will still manage and maintain the location.

“I’m looking forward to having residents in the Iowa City area aware of what an amenity this is,” Hall said.

All that’s left in the puzzle now is the governor’s signature, which Hall said he believes will be completed before the fall of this year.

“This opens up additional funding to protect the species and become an educational opportunity,” Hayek said.

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