Cedar Falls, Iowa, is known for its wealth of recreational opportunities. Nestled next to the Cedar River, the city is home to hundreds of miles of multipurpose trails and is celebrating 41 years as a proud member of Tree City, USA.
Trees are not the only thing growing in Cedar Falls, though. Head over to the North Cedar neighborhood and you will find how the area's Natural Resource Project is nourishing minds and the community.
Following the creation of the North Cedar Neighborhood Association in 2008, the group worked with Cedar Falls City staff and Black Hawk County to transform an area of the neighborhood into a 13 – 16 acre natural resource project located at the intersection of Woodlawn and Cedar Street. In May 2013, 300 invasive Siberian Elms were moved out of the area, making way for the planting of tallgrass prairie, greatly benefiting the bird and bee population.
In 2015, an outdoor classroom was established near the North Cedar Elementary School. Limestone rocks provide the natural seating with 22 lining an old river channel. The local Kiwanis and Lions Clubs lent a hand by building a shelter and the property continues to be maintained by volunteers. One of the most popular features is the chimney swift tower and bird-watching benches installed by the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society (to learn more about Cedar Falls earning the recognition as a Bird-Friendly Community, click here).
"Nature is an important part of the health of a community," said Jim Newcomb, Chair of the Natural Resource Project. "Establishing this project next to the school has created a real impact as students continue to get involved. The staff is wonderful and extremely helpful with pollinators and tree plantings. As an educational area and an outdoor reading classroom in addition to a nice walking area, it is a great asset to the North Cedar neighborhood."
Project members continue to work with City Parks staff to care for the area. In fall 2022, they teamed up to remove woody vegetation and weeds so native grasses can be planted in the spring.
"Establishing and maintaining green spaces in our community is valuable for all," said City Parks Supervisor Brett Morris. "We are grateful to have such engaged citizens and partnerships in Cedar Falls that make areas like this possible."
In total, over 400 trees have been planted since the inception of the project in addition to almost 3,000 native shrubs.
"Invasive species like the Chinese Elm grow fast and start dropping branches which can be dangerous," said Newcomb. "These kinds of trees, invasive species like Siberian Elm, are not good for anything in this area, not even firewood. Removing them and putting in tallgrass prairie as well as ensuring the growth of trees native to Iowa greatly benefits wildlife and our overall ecosystem. Most of Iowa was a tallgrass prairie originally. We invite visitors to learn about the project and why it is so beneficial for our community."
The public can get more information about the North Cedar Natural Resource Project by visiting the Facebook page @NorthCedarNaturalResourceProject.
"Nature is our friend," said Newcomb. "We thrive together."