Mining the Missing Loess Hill

Mining for fill dirt and limestone is a controversial topic in the Loess Hills. Most residents believe the heart of the Hills is the front face—or west side. It's the most visible and the most fragile. The soil here is most vulnerable to erosion and the rare prairie plants struggle to keep their footing. It's also the easiest side to mine. But regardless of the increase in awareness that has occurred in the last 30 years, mining still takes place in the Loess Hills. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy fight mining and rescue fragile prairie in the Loess Hills whenever possible.

The Usefulness of a Hill

Until about the 1970s, some people who lived and worked in the Loess Hills didn't realize they were living and working in a globally unique environment. But awareness of the Loess Hills and their unique qualities is pretty strong now. Those who used to think the Loess Hills were a good source for fill dirt may think differently. In fact, in 1999, the Nature Conservancy acquired a piece of prime prairie area in the Loess Hills that was scheduled for destruction as a fill dirt source. Half of one of the hills was actually torn down and taken across the street for fill dirt on a construction project. When The Nature Conservancy bought the land, they put a stop to the destruction and started repairing the area.

The Missing Hill

The missing hill is from a piece of land called Folsom Point Preserve, which covers 280 acres in the Loess Hills. Folsom Point Preserve protects one of the largest prairie remnants south of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Prairie can be found on all slope aspects in this area, which is highly unusual this far south in the Hills. However, due to the lack of fire management, the prairie has been invaded by eastern red cedar trees, dogwoods, and other shrubs. The Nature Conservancy land management team is working to restore prairie where these wooded areas are.

Folsom Point Preserve is as its name says—a preserve. Preserves are not working landscapes so they do not need an equal balance between social, ecological, and economic elements. Preserves concentrate on ecological needs. But Folsom Point Preserve showcases an issue that is important in working landscapes—the economic activity of mining.

The "missing hill" pictures (left) are from Folsom Point Preserve. They show how devastating the mining of Loess Hills can be.


1. Hickey, Susanne. Loess Hills Project Director. Interview. Fall 2001.
2. Leonard, Bill. "Lessons from the Everglades for Iowa." The Des Moines Register. 08/08/1999. December 2001.


Explore More: Working Landscapes
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