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Land donors honored during reception in Des Moines

Nearly 4,000 acres of Iowa land in 25 counties with an estimated value of nearly $4.9 million was permanently protected through donations for conservation.

The donors associated with over 30 donations of land or land value will be recognized during a ceremony on March 25, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., in the 1st floor rotunda, at the State Capitol, in Des Moines. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is scheduled to attend.

Update: In light of the Covid-19 and recommendations set forth by the CDC, as well as the suspension of the legislative session and restricted access to the Capitol, the DNR is cancelling this ceremony.

Donors scheduled to be recognized at this year’s Gift to Iowa Ceremony are encouraged to participate in the 2021 ceremony. A date has yet to be set.


Bret and Carol Barner donated a 1.66-acre parcel of land in Anamosa to the Iowa DNR. The land will be added to Wapsipinicon State Park to provide water quality benefits, enhance wildlife habitat and increase recreational opportunities at the park.

Bruce and Tancy Becker donated a conservation easement to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation on 150 acres of stream corridor, oak woodland and pasture near Sac City where Tancy grew up. Permanent protection of the property will enhance wildlife habitat in the area and provides water quality benefits to the North Raccoon River valley.

Bill and Sara Blackburn donated over 150 acres of pristine Loess Hills land in Fremont County. The Iowa DNR will manage this large tract as a State Park and Wildlife Management Area. After Bill and Sara bought the property in 2003, they immediately started to restore it to its native-state by removing about 200 cedar trees and acres of tree-of-heaven and honeysuckle that invaded the native timber. The Blackburns researched what prairie plants would likely have been on the area during settlement and searched for those seeds to include as part of the mix used for a 35-acre prairie restoration. They improved the oak timber, installed roads and trails, controlled erosion, and built an open-air picnic shelter and performance pavilion with adjoining boardwalk leading to a viewing platform. The Blackburn property has become a popular nature preserve for the family and community, a sought-after wedding and graduation party venue, and host to a biennial music festival, a charity affair that helped serve tornado victims, a local library and, last Fall, flood victims of Fremont County.

The Eastern Iowa Conservation Foundation sold, at a bargain price, an important piece of land on the Wapsipinicon River in Jones County. This property will provide watershed protection and recreational opportunities.

Fredrickson Farms, Inc. donated 55 acres 12 miles southeast of Emmetsburg to the Iowa DNR in memory of Norman and Gene Fredrickson. The West Branch Des Moines River forms the south boundary of the property, extending about 1900 feet. This donation will provide water quality benefits and enhance habitat to numerous wildlife species using this river corridor, while also providing public access for hunting.

Valli Jo Grammer donated a portion of the value of 197 acres of bluffland in Allamakee County to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The land, overlooking the Mississippi River and an unnamed coldwater trout stream, neighbors Lansing Wildlife Management Area, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway and the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Now part of Lansing Wildlife Management Area, it will expand public recreation opportunities and protect wildlife habitat and scenic beauty along the Upper Mississippi River corridor.

Ray and Patti Hamilton donated a 60-acre conservation easement on Codfish Hollow Hill Prairie east of Maquoketa to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Over the last 35 years, the couple reconnected the property’s twelve remnant hilltop prairies and restored the prairie in-between them with locally-sourced native seed. A blend of remnant and reconstructed prairie now includes more than 100 native species. Ray and Patti previously donated a portion of the value of a 34-acre remnant prairie in Jones County to INHF in 2008, which is now owned and managed by Jones County Conservation Board, and their share of a 29-acre fen in Fayette County to INHF in 2017.

Cameron and Dawn Harris donated a portion of the value of 45 acres to Winneshiek County Conservation Board. The mixture of woodland, oak savanna, and prairie remnants provide critical habitat for the endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. Located along Dry Run Creek and 500 feet from Neste Valley Recreational Area, the land creates a 215-acre complex and a greenbelt protecting Dry Run Creek, which flows into the Upper Iowa River.

David and Annette Hartig donated an 8-acre conservation easement within Dubuque city limits to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The land, comprised of two parcels, encompasses a mix of woodland, grassland and stream corridor along Catfish Creek near Mines of Spain State Recreation Area. For over three decades, the Hartigs have worked to restore and protect natural lands in the area. They previously donated three adjacent conservation easements totaling 120 acres in 1988, 2007 and 2008. Together, they create a large block of protected land in an urban setting and protect a significant stretch of Catfish Creek and its floodplain.

Ron and Karlene Humpal donated their 164-acre farm to Sustainable Iowa Land Trust to provide affordable land access to sustainable food farmers. Ron is proud of a 40-acre walnut grove located upland from the Falcon Spring State Wildlife Area that he has been stewarding for more than 20 years. Karlene is thrilled to carry on her father’s legacy as a close relation of Nobel Prize Winner Norman Borlaug, born in nearby Cresco.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation conveyed 11 properties totaling 1,705 acres of land to the State of Iowa at below market value prices. These land projects were located in 8 counties and valued over $350,000 of donated land value.

Bill Lundie and Jean Meehan sold 82 acres west of Dumont to the Iowa DNR at below market value price. This diverse West Fork Cedar River floodplain forest and grassland, bisected by Hartgrave Creek, is home to the state-threatened Blanding’s turtle. This donation will provide water quality benefits to the greater Big Marsh area, along with enhancement of small wetland habitats and existing floodplain timber management. The property allows for excellent access for public hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities.

Sisters Michelle Meier and Holly Lester donated a portion of the value of a quarter mile of former railroad corridor near Bouton to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The corridor is part of a planned 9-mile trail between Perry and Woodward that will connect the Raccoon River Valley Trail and the High Trestle Trail, two of Iowa’s largest and most-used trails. Once complete, the connector will link over a hundred miles of multi-use trails in central Iowa. The Dallas County Conservation Board owns and manages the land.

Ed May donated 63 acres of native prairie in the Loess Hills to The Nature Conservancy. Ed has worked with conservation partners to improve the health of the prairie through diligent management of woody vegetation and invasive species. Remnant, native prairie is exceptionally rare in Iowa (less than 1/10 of 1% of the state’s original tallgrass prairie remains). The Nature Conservancy will establish a conservation easement on the property and look for an interested conservation-minded owner to own and manage it for the long-term.

Karen Nelson donated 60 acres to the Cherokee County Conservation Board to permanently protect and maintain the natural features and values of the land and ensure that future generations can enjoy the land's beauty, wildlife habitat, and sense of sanctuary that the property has provided for her friends and family over the last 40 years.

The Okoboji Foundation donated a portion of the value of 20 acres of wetland near the Pearson Lake Art Center and Dickinson County Nature Center in Okoboji to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The property offers water quality benefits, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities, and expands protected land in the heart of the Iowa Great Lakes. The Dickinson County Conservation Board owns and manages the land.

Members of Pleasant Grove Land Preservation, Inc. donated a portion of their remaining interests in 479 acres of woodland and grassland in Mahaska County to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation with reserved life estates. Twenty friends who shared a common vision for land protection and stewardship formed the Pleasant Grove Land Trust, Inc. 20 years ago. The group previously donated a conservation easement on the land to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation in 2010, and reserved life estates in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque donated a conservation easement on 68 acres of prairie within Dubuque city limits to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The Sisters purchased the land, now known as St. Francis Prairie, when they moved to the area in the late 1800s. Permanent protection of the land aligns with the Sisters’ land ethic, which calls them to “live in right relationship with all creation.” The property is near the Mississippi River, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and Eagle Point Park.

The Steele Family Limited Partnership sold, at a bargain price, a portion of their farm to the Nature Conservancy (TNC). Tom Steele, managing general partner, and his family have managed the remnant prairie on this tract with tree shearing, prescribed fire, and cattle grazing for many years. They worked with NRCS, DNR, the Little Sioux Grazing Network, and TNC to keep the prairie healthy with conservation best practices.

 

Union Pacific Railroad donated a portion of the value of 1.8 miles of former railroad corridor in Mason City to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The corridor is scheduled to become part of the city’s High Line Trail, an eight-mile, partially elevated multi-use trail through the heart of the city. The trail is part of a larger regional trails plan that will connect Mason City residents and visitors to areas of interest and activity around the city, as well as nearby parks and natural areas, including Lime Creek Conservation Area and Nature Center.

Seth and Christy Watkins donated a portion of the value of an agricultural land easement (ALE) on their 301-acre cattle farm along the West Nodaway River near Clarinda to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Seth’s family, which includes Iowa 4-H Founder Jessie Field Shambaugh, has farmed the land since 1856. Seth took over management of the family farm in the 1990s and has implemented conservation and animal husbandry practices that reflect the family’s strong beliefs to work with nature, not against it. The ALE protects the Watkins’ grasslands for conservation-minded grazing, water quality and wildlife habitat.

Bill and Dorothy Zales have conservation easements with The Nature Conservancy on 356 acres of Loess Hills land in Plymouth County that they have been protecting and restoring for more than twenty years. The Zales’ properties provide exceptional habitat for wildlife, pollinators, and migratory birds, along with excellent viewscapes for travelers along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. Bill and Dorothy are very active in the conservation community and work tirelessly to expand peoples’ knowledge and access to native prairie.