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Our Journey

Tallgrass prairie restoration is art and science.

Life is a journey! So much to learn!!

Environmental management activities and techniques for restoring native tallgrass prairie are endless and diverse! We use a combination of hands- on experience and scientific research. This means lots and lots of interesting things are happening at Driftless Prairies and we discover successful new techniques regularly. It seemed a shame to keep these to ourselves, hence the creation of this site. We have a great time learning about the world around us and experimenting with new things.  Life truly is a journey!

We have 30 acres of restored prairies, 8 acres of remnant prairies, 10 acres of remnant savanna, and 5 acres of woods which we have cleared of invasive species (plants and trees) and we continue to monitor. Along with managing our land, we are land stewards for a streambank restoration with Trout Unlimited. Native ecosystem restoration is incredibly rewarding!!

In January 2008, we planted the first tallgrass prairie and since we have referred to it as the 5-Acre Prairie for years, that’s what we named it! In 2010, we planted the Berry Prairie, a 3.5 acre area. It is so named because there were native berry bushes along the edge, which inspired us to plant a few more.  We are calling the prairie planted in 2014 the Deer Camp Prairie because it is between two areas set aside for hunting. In 2016, we purchased another 20 acres which include 2 prairies we originally planted, remnant prairie, and remnant oak savanna. We are super excited to have the opportunity to restore these!

Most of our work is in ecological restoration and land management but we also have homesteading tendencies. We garden (sorta), we make soap & lotion, and we cook & can. Our homesteading tendencies stem from our desire to have quality products with natural ingredients and as an offshoot of the restoration work. But mostly we depend on our local veggies growers to keep us fed!

Our ecological restoration work includes many aspects, one being plant propagation.  We have successfully propagated several threatened and endangered species and have introduced them back to the land. This is part of our land management plan; decrease the invasive species and increase biodiversity. This simple one-sentence plan has been a very effective at keeping us focused and on track.

This work will be a labor of love for years to come. I hope you can learn from our journey and if you post comments, we hope to learn from you as well!

This is our background and journey into prairie, woodland, & savanna restoration.

Marci Hess

Looking for invasive species in a prairie in the driftless area
I’m looking for invasives!

I have been working in prairie restoration since 2000. I spend many hours researching techniques and products as well as the flora and fauna of native ecosystems. My ecological restoration education comes from talking with folks, reading scientific research papers, and experimenting. Being a skeptic, my wish would be to have all the facts wrapped up in a nice neat document but with nature, nothing is nice and neat! With the resources available to me, I do my best to stay up-to-date with the latest science. And certainly, I will share any piece of knowledge I have!

My formal education is in business with an emphasis in marketing. I am a few hours from a Biology major but did not continue with that study because I would not dissect 4-legged furries. Such a shame that computer animation wasn’t available. I had nearly completed my MBA when we moved to Wisconsin and my focus shifted to nature studies. I am a lifelong learner and have completed formal certifications in prescribed burns, writing burn plans, and chain saw operations.

Having grown up in Kansas, prairies were something near and dear but when I lived there, I was busy with my career and had little time for much else.  When we moved to Wisconsin in 2000, I switched gears and began volunteering for Madison Audubon at Goose Pond. I started by collecting prairie seeds. Funny thing, most of the others I collected with learned the plants “backwards” too!! We knew what they looked like when the seeds were ready to collect but didn’t know the color of the flower when it was in bloom!! Each week, after collecting all day, I would go home and study my plant books.

One thing leads to another and eventually I began studying the whole ecosystem — birds, mammals, soils, and insects. There is no way to separate the subjects within an ecosystem – they all depend on each other and are connected in many facets!  It’s a most incredible system of interrelationships and fascinating dynamics.

Jim Hess

Jim with a trout.
Jim with a trout.

Growing up in Kansas, I loved being outdoors and close to nature. After taking a high school aptitude test my guidance counselor suggested I should consider a career that involved these interests, such as being a forest ranger. However, my heart was set on going to the University of Kansas and they didn’t offer classes in these areas. Going to college in the 60’s was a unique learning experience with the counter-cultural movement, the civil rights movement, and the war protests. I managed to complete a degree in business administration and then a master’s degree in political science.

Marci and I dreamed of having land, but my chosen career of running public venue facilities (convention centers, performing arts facilities and arenas) required living within the city limits of that facility.  I had no regrets as I loved my job and there was never a dull moment.  During the last ten years of my career at Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Marci and I started volunteering with the Madison Audubon Society collecting prairie plant seeds at Goose Pond, which were used to re-establish prairie habitat for birds and wildlife. That reignited our desire to buy land where we could establish our own prairie and build our retirement home. With that goal in mind we continued our volunteer seed collecting activities and joined other organizations to learn more about native ecosystems and land management.

We established a bluebird trail which has 26 bluebird houses that I monitor weekly between April and September. I share my data with the Lafayette County Bluebird Association and then send my annual report to the state association. In 1979 there were only 22 bluebirds in the entire county. Last year my trail fledged 98 bluebirds. We have also added bee hives to provide us with some great honey (and a few bee stings, which I have been told is good for you – at least I keep saying this to myself after being stung).