When they got started, it was still light enough out that you could see where you were going in the tall grasses and prairie flower-filled field. But as the Moonlight Prairie Harvest event got deeper into the evening hours, it was so dark that individual lighting devices sparkled throughout the prairie like bright stars hovering just above the grasses and plants.
It was a peaceful night on the prairie as Ben Pegg, 16, of Urbandale, used the light on his forehead to look closely at plants that he held in his hand. He was among the group of harvesting volunteers looking for rosinweed seed, one of four seeds being collected during the event. Other seeds included gray-headed coneflower, sweet coneflower and mountain mint.
“It (rosinweed seed) looks like little cabbages and it looks like the little cabbage has been dyed black,” he described. Then he added that you might know the seeds best because they stick to you.
“They seem like vecro almost,” described his mother, Sue Pegg, who was looking for the same type of seed nearby.
Ben is a Boy Scouts member and said he was at the prairie seed harvest event to earn points toward his camping merit badge.
Eight-year-old Camryn Van Houten of Ankeny had been to the event last year with her Girl Scout troop. She had so much fun that this year she wanted to bring her parents and twin brother.
The Currier sisters of Des Moines, Kristal, 12, Kira, 15 and Katherine, 16, were there with their parents, because it was something their mom saw was going on. They said she’s always looking for ways they can get outdoors to do things as a family.
For Tarun Yenna, it was a night out with other young members of the Minnesota-Iowa Conservation Corps. “We’re like the Ghostbusters of conservation,” he said. The 25-year-old said for him, it was a work event, but a fun one, especially when you like people and like to visit. “I love meeting new people, and I like to find out why other people are here,” he said.
Melanie Louis, volunteer coordinator for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), which sponsored the Saturday seed harvest event at Chichaqua Bottoms with Polk County Conservation, said that over 100 volunteers signed up for the event on Saturday. She said that is “double what we had at the first event (three years ago).” Louis said the moonlight prairie walk has become a popular event for families and scout troops. She said word about it has spread by word of mouth and by media and social media coverage.
“I was most pleased with the amount of people that showed up on a Saturday evening, especially families and troops. Both the kids and parents were enjoying themselves and helping accomplish a huge goal for Chichaqua.” In fact, on Monday, INHF Communications Consultant Katy Heggn reported that volunteers collected 70 pounds of seeds in just an hour-and-a-half.
INHF has one last public seed harvest this fall, which is on Oct. 7 at Snyder Heritage Farm, an amazing prairie oasis just outside of Des Moines, near Elkhart. It will take place from 1-4 p.m. that Saturday and is open to all volunteers. For more information about that event or to register, contact Louis at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the INHF at 515-288-1846. You can also find out more about this event and other events at http://www.inhf.org.