Rock Island State Preserve is a 17-acre area featuring a sand prairie and an associated wetland and woodland. It is located in the northwest part of the city of Cedar Rapids in Linn County. The tract was given to the Linn County Conservation Board by the Rock Island Railroad Company in 1962 and was dedicated as a biological state preserve in 1978. Located in the Iowan Surface landform region, the preserve stands conspicuously above the nearby Cedar River, whose valley was the source of sand blown onto adjacent uplands to form undulating sand dunes. Vegetation in the preserve consists of upland dry sand prairie and a wooded area with upland, lowland, and wet habitats. A total of over 130 plants have been found in the preserve in various habitats. The prairie hosts a beautiful array of flowering forbs throughout the year starting with fringed puccoon in the spring. Hog peanut and lousewort can also be seen in the spring, followed later by Indian paintbrush, sand milkweed, butterfly weed, pale purple coneflower, gray-headed coneflower, black-eyed Susan, showy tick-trefoil, New Jersey tea, and common mountain mint in the summer. Fall flowers include gerardia, rough blazing star, grassleaf goldenrod, and white sage. The sandy prairie is also home for the hognose snake. Portions of the floodplain in the woodland were once used as a source of fill by the railroad, creating a series of pools. Today, this habitat supports several uncommon wetland plant species and Sphagnum moss. The lowland forest is dominated by river birch, but dark green bulrush, American manna grass, rice cut-grass, cattail, Michigan lily, duck potato, soft rush, woolly bulrush, water plantain, sensitive fern, and swamp horsetail are also found here. Among the sixty species of butterflies noted at the preserve are byssus skipper, checkered white, gorgone checkerspot, northern broken dash, painted lady, wild indigo duskywing, Acadian hairstreak, and fiery skipper. Other natural areas in the vicinity include Palisades-Dows, Behrens Ponds and Woodland, and Hanging Bog State Preserves, and PalisadesKepler State Park.
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