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News from Prairie Hill

Dear Friends,

Our gardens are thriving despite the cool and rainy weather. And we are thriving too. Plans are progressing well for our final two Prairie Hill buildings. And with the new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, we are cautiously easing ourselves back into small in-person gatherings. It feels good to see faces again! We hope to be able to extend an invitation for you to visit soon. In the meantime, do those things you do to build community in your neighborhood. Be well and be safe.

Upcoming Prairie Hill events on Zoom

Information Meeting
Wednesday, June 2
6:00-7:30 p.m.

Come learn more about cohousing. Talk to some of the people who live at Prairie Hill. Find out why we like it. To get a link to this event, send a text to Val Bowman at 916-751-9188 or write to us at

Weekend Brunch Meet and Greet
Saturday, June 19
10:00-11:30 a.m.

Take a break and have a cup of coffee with us. Find out more about Prairie Hill from the folks who live here. Get your questions answered. To get the link, send a text to Val Bowman at 916-751-9188 or write to us at
Students confer about awards to be presented to their teachers at Prairie Hill School Teacher Appreciation Night. 

Prairie Hill School

Last semester several Prairie Hill residents answered the call to teach at Prairie Hill School (PHS), an enrichment program to supplement the homeschooling program that Sam Keehn and Jen Popple have set up for their girls during the pandemic. 

At Prairie Hill Teacher Appreciation night on May 16, students served dinner to their teachers and presented special awards to each of them. Francis Gurtz won the coveted "Silliest Teacher" award.

When asked what they liked best about Prairie Hill School, A. said, "That I don't have to get up at 6:30 and I don't have to go to school for eight hours." F.'s reply was, "It's not as boring as regular school. Actually, I like school but I don't like how long it is."

The girls have learned everything from math to engineering to poetry, and even a little Danish. They made a water wheel, marble mazes, rubberband catapaults, kites, and a hand-made guitar. They planted prairie seedlings and learned to identify a Fibonacci spiral. They even created a scale model of the solar system along Miller Avenue. And, if you're a chess player, watch out—they're getting pretty good.

The Prairie Hill School teacher roster includes Donna Rupp, John McGonegle, Annie Tucker, Michele McNabb, Val Bowman, John Bowman, Wendy Brown, Nan Fawcett, Barb Bailey, Marcia Shaffer, Francis Gurtz and Mary Ann Reynolds, whom the girls named "Prairie Ann," because she teaches them about the prairie plants at Prairie Hill. The teachers agree that they gained as much or more than the kids.

"Prairie Ann" talks about prairie plants with a budding young botanist.

Frog and Toad Survey

by Nan Fawcett

In response to alarm about the declining numbers of amphibians in the Iowa landscape, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources organized a yearly frog and toad survey in 1991. Data has been collected from 516 different sites around the state, and 15 frog and toad species have been identified.

More volunteers were solicited this year, and two of us from Prairie Hill—Mary Ann Reynolds and I—answered the call. We went through an evening of training which included learning the calls of all 15 species. Fortunately, perfection was not required, just a willingness to go out once a month on nightly surveys to a fixed number of sites.

Mary Ann drove around the back streets and roads of Johnson County, looking for wetland sites not already claimed by other amphibian enthusiasts. We started out with eight sites, stretching from a swampy area several miles west of Prairie Hill and then continuing back through Iowa City streets and ending at the east entrance of Hickory Hill Park.

Each survey team commits to doing a night survey once each month from April to June. The survey must start at least a half hour after sunset. At each site, temperature, time, wind, sky cover, noise, moisture, and car distraction are noted. And then the volunteers stand for at least five minutes, listening in the dark at the edge of each site, listening, listening. Our first night was disappointing. Of the eight sites, most seemed devoid of frogs or toads. At least we heard none. At the first site, at a deserted swampy field well out in the country, we stood at the side of a large expanse of dark dampness, listening. We heard nothing, and couldn’t even see each other’s faces. And then suddenly lights started coming at us across the field, heading straight toward us, and coming faster than we liked. We looked at each other, paused, and then ran to the car.  Time to go!

Of the other seven sites that first survey night, at only two did we hear any frog or toad, and it took determined listening to even pick out the one or two individuals who were calling. We identified them as American Toad and Boreal Chorus Frogs. We drove home somewhat dejected, wondering if things would improve in the future.

We headed out on our second survey one month after the first one. This time we heard many, many calls. We eliminated two of our previous sites, so we had six left. And four of them had an abundance of frogs and toads! We identified Boreal Chorus Frogs, American Toads, Eastern Grey Treefrog, and Cricket Frog. The calls were so loud that often we didn’t even have to get out of the car to hear them. The days of rainy weather must have been a perfect setting for amphibians, and we were greeted by truly loud choruses of frogs and toads at all but two of our sites. These two were wooded, so we concluded that wood scapes are not favorites for our target populations. We drove home smiling with success, a bumper crop of frog and toad calls for our records. Who knows what June will bring.

Here is the bioswale we've planted along Miller Avenue. The Stormwater Best Management Practices Loan Program allowed us to implement our environmental values in a way that is not only effective, but beautiful.

Fun Committee plans in the works

We have a new Fun Committee that's been brainstorming activities to bring us back together in person. The merrymakers above are getting ready to serenade Val Bowman on her birthday. Earlier, we celebrated Earth Day with yoga at dawn and dusk, tree planting, and snacks. Almost 20 people came out that morning to greet the sun—even though the temperature was still in the 30s!

This summer we are planning bike rides, picnics in the park, kite flying, drum circles, a Solstice gathering, and so much more! 

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Iowa City Cohousing · 140 Prairie Hill Ln · Iowa City, IA 52246-2029 · USA

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