© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Big Marsh, the Lost Landscape and Wetland Reconstruction

Minnesota Historical Society Press

 This program originally aired June 9, 2016.

The "Big Marsh" was a source of bounty for wildlife, native people and settlers.  When it was drained it offered up fertile soil, but what was lost?  This hour, we talk to Cheri Register, author of the new book, "The Big Marsh; the Story of a Lost Landscape" (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

Host Charity Nebbe and Register explore the landscape of the Prairie Pothole region and the wetlands that have been drained away over the last 130 years in the name of agricultural progress.  Later in the hour we discuss wetland reconstruction with wetland scientist Judith Joyce, founder and President of Earthview Environmental Inc. of Coralville.

Author Register told Charity that she grew up in an oak savannah in southern Minnesota and remembers the land teeming with reeds, marsh vegetation, birds, muskrats and mink.  She went on: "I feel that marshes and wetlands are my primeval landscapes.  Not only have I inherited a love of wetlands, but I grew up near a little slough that was a remnant of a much larger wetland--that wetland has been paved over and turned into a strip mall."  She says what she remembers especially is the sound of the blackbirds, the feel of the cattails and the droplets of water in the air, a "whole sensory environment that gave my a childhood a sense of security."

Professional wetland scientist Joyce told Charity: "There were once lots of small wetlands in Iowa, and in the past 200 years we've lost over ninety percent of them.  Iowa was one wet pastures and marshes."  She said taking a walk 150 years ago would have involved meandering through sloughs, tall-grass prairies and soggy land.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa