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Hamburg, Iowa –Eli Slusher Wildlife Area, south of Waubonsie State Park in Fremont County, offers a wild and rugged get-away-from-it-all kind of experience.
“It’s pretty much the most awesome spot in my six county area,” said Matt Dollison, wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in southwest Iowa’s Nishnabotna Unit.
If it’s possible, Dollison may be underselling it.
With limited access, the only way to get anywhere on the 517-acre public area is to hike, and while that can make it somewhat challenging, getting to the way out of the way places here is worth it. Timbered draws, prairie ridges, steep hills and deep valleys. It’s full of wildlife from the hardy - like deer, turkey and badgers - to the more fragile, like zebra swallowtail butterflies and, quite likely, the state endangered Great Plains skink.
Winding through a grassy overgrown maintenance lane ducking trees and downed branches leads to the former site of the Wanamaker family cabin. The cabin has been removed leaving area that has scenic views to the west and south and a great place to pitch a tent.
Walking over the former cabin site, Dollison points out different native plants. There’s nine-anther dalea, roundhead lespedeza, prairie blazing star, rough blazing star, croton. “This area is more diverse with forbs because the landowner mowed the area around the cabin, which suppressed the native grasses” he said.
Diversity began to show up in grasslands, too, when it was burned in 2016 as part of the Loess Hills Cooperative burn. “After we burned it the native plants just popped,” he said. And while brome has returned over time, Dollison said they will be using prescribed fire and other techniques to encourage natives.
Eli Slusher has only been open to the public since 2016, but has attracted bird watchers, hikers, mushroom hunters and a growing number of archery deer hunters. Being adjacent to Waubonsie State Park and its campsites, cabins and modern shower and restroom facilities, visitors can totally immerse themselves in Iowa’s outdoors.
Becoming Eli Slusher
Eli Slusher Wildlife Area was created in the spring of 2016, when Dr. John and Karen Wanamaker sold their land at a significant discount to the Iowa DNR so it could be enjoyed by everyone. Dr. Wanamaker was a leader in land stewardship and his commitment to protecting the land shows. The 420-acre Wanamaker tract was combined with the nearby Sundown tract to create the 517-acre Eli Slusher area.
The area was named after Eli Slusher who claimed it as a homesteader and is buried in a small cemetery a few hundred yards northeast of the parking lot.
Forest stewardship plan
District forester Lindsey Barney has completed a forest stewardship plan for Eli Slusher and will be presenting the plan at a future public meeting. Eli Slusher has a nice mix of bur oak, red oak, black oak, chinkapin oak, shagbark hickory, walnut and hackberries in its timber stands.