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Thor, Iowa - Brothers Roger and Palmer Larson had a vision of what their farm could be in 2001 when they invited the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in for a visit.
The two bachelor farmers from southeast Humboldt County had lived their entire lives on the farm and hoped that one day their land could be returned to its original mix of prairie and wetlands. The brothers wanted their farm to become a place that residents of Humboldt County could enjoy and where they could recreate. They wanted to leave a legacy.
The land was officially transferred to the Iowa DNR in August of 2013 as directed by their estate after Roger Palmer passed away a year earlier.
“If a person ever has a blank slate to work with, this is it,” said Rob Patterson, a wildlife technician with the Iowa DNR. Patterson and wildlife biologist Bryan Hellyer created a plan to transform the nearly 150 acres from highly productive north central Iowa farmland into highly productive north central Iowa prairie and wetlands, just as the brothers wanted.
Not only is it the newest wildlife area in Humboldt County; it’s also the largest.
The Three Rivers Wildlife Area has two parcels – the north parcel covers 52 acres and is in its third year of converting into a prairie. The south parcel is about 64 acres and was seeded prairie in March. Both parcels will focus on restoring native wetland-prairie ecosystems with an emphasis on pheasant habitat. There are currently two food plots on the north parcel.
The north parcel is being designed to include severe winter habitat along the southern end, near the old farmstead. This will be a combination of conifers, shrubs and food plots to provide high-quality winter cover for pheasants and other local wildlife. The developing prairie is already attracting insects and grasshoppers that will feed growing pheasant chicks.
The Humboldt County Pheasants Forever Chapter has been an important partner developing the area. Patterson said members donate their time to conduct the mowing necessary to establishing a prairie. The young prairie requires regular mowing during the growing season, which is about 95 percent of what it takes to restore native prairie.
Walking through the north parcel, Patterson points to a small depression that will become a wetland. He said pheasants and partridge found the area last fall, after its final mowing of the year. Dickcissels, bobolinks, and monarchs have, too.
“This area just feels alive,” he said. “It’s great now and will only get better.”
Located in the heart of flat north central Iowa farm country, the small island of the prairie is beginning to take shape, just as the Larson brothers wanted.
What could be the unintended consequences of their generous action?
“If a local farmer is on the fence about whether or not he should put in CRP, he can come to this area to see it in practice,” Patterson said.
And that might be their real legacy.
Volunteers fill important role at Three Rivers Wildlife Area
Once the land transfer from the Larson’s estate to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources was completed, John Kollmorgen reached out to wildlife biologist Bryan Hellyer to offer his services as the president of the Humboldt County Pheasants Forever chapter.
The new wildlife area is near the Humboldt-Wright County line. Public land is plentiful in Wright County. In Humboldt County, not so much.
“It’s kind of a big deal for us,” Kollmorgen said.
Hellyer said establishing a prairie requires the area to be mowed at specific intervals over two years and the mowing had to happen within a week of being notified. He asked if the chapter could take that responsibility on. They gladly accepted.
Chapter members Doug Sandven, Al Kirsch and Custom Seeding & Habitat each donated the use of their equipment and Mike Vitzthum, Dave Erdman, and Nate and Zach Kollmorgen gave their time to use the equipment to mow the areas.
Their preparation made it possible that six of the seven mowings were completed by volunteers. Only one had to be contracted out. The members and volunteers will provide two more mowings this year and three mowings next year on the south parcel.
Wildlife area bisected by popular bike trail
A portion of the north parcel of Three Rivers Wildlife Area has the popular Three Rivers Bike Trail that passes through along the south end. The 33 mile crushed limestone trail connects Eagle Grove to Rolfe.