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Public Lands Day: Volunteers Needed for Prairie Seed Harvest

September 26, 2008

Des Moines, IA –National Public Lands Day began 14 years ago to preserve and protect America's natural heritage. Today the observance recognizes more than 100,000 volunteers working in every state. The celebration this Saturday features special events planned statewide.

One will be held at the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Jasper County. Park ranger Alan Murray needs volunteers to participate in the annual harvest of prairie seed from plants throughout the refuge. He says it's an awe-inspiring experience.

"Many people have never stood in grasses seven feet tall around them. When you visit the refuge on your own, you are required to stay on the trails. However, in a situation like this where you are volunteering, doing a field project for us, you get to see the refuge from a different perspective."

Murray says volunteers are sent out in teams with a guide to spot the most prized prairie plants and harvest the seed by hand.

"The seed comes back into the greenhouse and our volunteers work to germinate and transplant the seedlings into containers. In the spring, we have viable plants that we take out and put in the ground."

Some of the seed will be spread in areas of the refuge where managers are trying to expand the prairie grasses. Volunteers may sign up for the project by calling Murray at 515-964-3400.

More information is available online at

Dick Layman/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - IA