Protecting and restoring Iowaâ€™s land, water and wildlife.
A connected vision for Iowa
A vision for a better Iowa
ometimes it can be hard to see the benefit of protecting small parcels like a native prairie or an isolated wetland. On their own, their impact may seem insignificant in relation to JO E McGOV ERN the challenges we face in caring for our natural President resources on a landscape level. But meaningful conservation always has to start somewhere, and seemingly small projects often lead to something much larger. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently credited the Big Marsh wetland complex in Butler County with helping to reduce the crest of the flood in Cedar Rapids this fall. The nearly 7,000-acre complex is upstream along the West Fork of the Cedar River, and its expansion has been part of the effort to make the Cedar River watershed more absorbent following the devastating flood in 2008. Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has been able to help grow the protected area around Big Marsh, working on 15 additions to the natural area totaling more than 2,300 acres in the last five years alone. Each of these projects by themselves would have seemed small, but INHF and our partners — the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Iowa DNR, the Butler County Conservation Board and Pheasants Forever — had a bigger vision that helps not just wildlife and water, but provides natural solutions to some of the environmental challenges we face. Conservation can also do more than just protect our natural resources. Outdoor recreation and economic development are proven to be closely linked. Those outdoor recreation opportunities mean a better quality of life, which attracts and retains the more vibrant workforce employers seek. It’s all connected. This is why the work we do with your help is so important. Even in challenging times, we will keep working hard together to protect and restore the natural places, large and small, that will make Iowa a better home for us all.
ON THE COVER Leaves fall into Prairie Creek at Dolliver Memorial State Park near Fort Dodge in Webster County. The park is spotted with canyons, prairies, woodlands and Indian mounds. Photo by Robert Buman
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
Protecting and restoring Iowa’s land, water and wildlife. OFFI CE
505 Fifth Ave., Suite 444 Des Moines, Iowa 50309 515-288-1846 | email@example.com
Joe McGovern President Jodi Baker Finance Director Ross Baxter Land Projects Director Andrea Boulton Trails Coordinator Jered Bourquin Blufflands Assistant Brian Fankhauser Blufflands Director Cheri Grauer Donor Relations Director Diane Graves Administrative Assistant and Receptionist Erin Griffin Development and Events Specialist Lisa Hein Senior Director for Conservation Programs Joe Jayjack Communications Director Heather Jobst Senior Land Conservation Director Melanie Louis Land Stewardship Associate Stacy Nelson Donors Services Manager Anita O’Gara Vice President Andrea Piekarczyk Grants Coordinator Marian E. Riggs Public Policy Director Mary Runkel Volunteer Coordinator Tylar Samuels Conservation Easement Specialist Ryan Schmidt Land Stewardship Director Kerri Sorrell Communications Specialist Tim Sproul Loess Hills Land Conservation Consultant Abby Hade Terpstra Development Specialist Erin Van Waus Conservation Easement Director Kari Walker Administration Director
EDI TORI AL
Joe Jayjack Editor/Publisher Kerri Sorrell Art Director Iowa Natural Heritage is published quarterly by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation for its members and friends.
Circulation 10,000 Articles appearing in Iowa Natural Heritage may be reprinted with permission of the publisher.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Central Iowa Greenways For INHF, protection projects often look like pieces in a much larger puzzle. Along the Des Moines and South Skunk rivers, INHF is creating corridors of natural land in Iowa’s most urbanized area. One of the biggest projects centers around the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.
The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund is important for Iowa’s water resources, but will provide funding for so much more. From trails and education to more public land, the trust fund will open a new era for Iowa’s natural resources.
A trail link between Prairie City and Mitchellville has been a line on a map for almost two decades. Now, as the trail progresses, Iowans are eyeing the small communities and natural opportunities the trail will connect.
Protecting the formula
Central Iowa’s newest trail
New natural gems for Story County Mary Baldus inherited a kid’s paradise when her father left her the family farm. Now, Story County is restoring the oxbows, prairies and woodlands to let the public enjoy the same outdoor playground Mary grew up in.
DEPARTM EN TS 2
A labor of love
Through Your Lens
A land donation in Jefferson County is creating wild space for the next generation of nature lovers in Fairfield. The Neff family worked with INHF to donate their restored cropland on the border of city limits to the county conservation board.
22 Looking Out for Iowa 23 Get Outdoors
inhf.o r g
THROUGH YOUR LENS
“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” – Aldo Leopold
It’s easy to love Fall. Your field of vision becomes a painting, refreshing and piling on new layers every day. It’s nature’s last stand, and one of the best times to venture out to Iowa’s public spaces. And then November comes, when the yellow flowers are done blooming, and the flame orange leaves have all found their way to the ground. The season signals us to pack up and brace for hostile months ahead. Another life cycle is over, beauty and brilliance come and gone. But what some of us know, and what some have yet to discover, are the gifts nature saves for those quiet months. The song birds that stay, the chill of frost in your bones, the movement of a buck on the ridge — small, patient moments worth just as much as any summer breeze. Look closely and you’ll find the decay and rebirth are just as rewarding. November doesn’t get nearly enough credit. — KE RRI S O R R E L L,
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
Where do you get outdoors in Iowa? Find Iowanâ€™s favorite places and add your own at www.inhf.org/optoutside. PHOTO: A duck hunter paddles his way through Hendricksen Marsh in Story County. Photo by Ed Siems
inhf.o r g
2 0 16
Where INHF volunteers worked Where INHF volunteers are from
2,330 368 hours given by
INHF has launched Iowa Landowner Options, a new website aimed at helping Iowa landowners navigate the future of their land. The website has information about land protection options and tax benefits for landowners thinking about conservation protection on their land. Learn more at www.iowalandoptions.org.
New resources for Iowa landowners Iowa landowners, their families and their advisors now have an easy, accessible resource to consult when they’re thinking about next steps for land. An initiative of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the new Iowa Landowner Options website has information about tax benefits, land protection options and how to approach land protection for future generations. The site (www.iowalandoptions.org) takes visitors through potential land protection scenarios, explores the different tax benefits available and provides easy-tofollow information about often complex decisions. Stories from landowners who made the decision to permanently protect their land with the help of INHF are featured on the site’s blog. The new site has charts, links to more resources and even a case study to make the decision to protect an informed one. “INHF aims to help Iowa landowners or their attorneys and financial advisers fully understand the tools or financial benefits of permanent land protection,” INHF Vice
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
President Anita O’Gara said. “We created this site to make it easy for people to find information if and when they want it. People reach seasons in their life when they need to decide what to do with their land. We wanted to make it easy for them to find those options.” The new website serves as a digital edition of INHF’s print publication, “Landowner’s Options.” A new version of the booklet, last published in 2007, will be available in early 2017. In addition to the new Iowa Landowner Options website, INHF has redesigned its home site, inhf.org. Information about INHF protection projects, upcoming events and conservation news is available on the new INHF site. The Iowa Landowner Options site is one part of a broader initiative to make land protection more accessible to Iowa landowners. A series of regional presentations and webinars for landowners and advisors are being planned for 2017-18. For more information or to learn about hositng a workshop, contact Anita O’Gara at 515-288-1846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn about INHF volunteering at www.inhf.org.
INHF receives national reaccreditation INHF was among 38 land trusts nationally to achieve accreditation or reaccreditation in August. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, awarded the mark of distinction, signifying its confidence that INHF’s lands will be protected forever.
Garlock Slough addition expands habitat in Okoboji Settled next to the wildlife management area (WMA) bordering West Lake Okoboji, the Garlock Slough addition will expand an already ideal habitat for wetland species. This 124-acre addition fulfills a trifecta of priorities for INHF: improving water quality, building wildlife habitat and providing a space for public recreation. The addition to the expansive WMA will increase habitat for the deer, pheasant and waterfowl that call the wetland and prairie home. Heather Jobst, INHF senior land conservation director, stressed the addition’s importance to achieving a variety of conservation priorities. “While it is an important water quality protection project, there’s also remnant prairie and wildlife habitat benefits to it,” Jobst said. INHF’s recent acquisition of the property adjoining the WMA will allow it to transfer
management to the DNR for ongoing restoration and ensure the quality of wildlife habitat. The area is also critical for the filtration of water through the WMA and into West Lake Okoboji. Tucked in south-central Dickinson County, the property will be open to the public for hunting, hiking and simply enjoying the view.
“When I am working at Neste Valley alongside other volunteers I’m thinking, ‘Is this heaven?’ No, it’s Iowa, but if we just get rid of this honeysuckle and pull out this rusty old fence, we will hardly know the difference!” — DENNIS HALLER
INHF Volunteer Land Ambassador
Dennis Haller, a highly involved, longtime volunteer, has taken the plunge to be an INHF Volunteer Land Ambassador for 2016. Volunteer Land Ambassadors are part of a new pilot program to assist INHF staff in overseeing and managing a designated parcel of land. INHF began the program to connect people more deeply to the land while supplementing INHF land stewardship staff’s management capacity. Dennis jumped at the opportunity to be involved at Neste Valley, a current INHF project just south of Decorah, a place near to his home and his heart.
Garlock Slough WMA provides vital habitat in the Okoboji area. A new 124-acre addition will increase wetland and water quality protection around the Iowa Great Lakes region. Photo by Daniel Ruf
New wildlife area for the Loess Hills The wind-swept grasses of the Loess Hills Sunrise Trophies property in Fremont County provide habitat for almost 50 rare plant and animal species. INHF recently purchased the 90-acre property of bur oak woodlands and prairie, and it will eventually be transferred to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for permanent protection. The property is surrounded on three sides by Waubonsie State park, and a section of it fronts the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. Once a private hunting preserve, the site will be a wildlife management area open to the public, including hunting, once it has transferred the Iowa DNR. inhf.o r g
Trusting the formula
More than 10 years ago, a diverse group came together to craft a formula that would become the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Voters approved the formula, which outlines how almost $180 million will be spent annually when the legislature approves a 3/8 cent sales tax increase to protect Iowaâ€™s natural resources and economy. In 2017, INHF will work with Iowa legislators to fund the trust fund and ensure the original formula stays intact. In this graphic, we examine what that funding looks like on the ground. BY KE RRI S O R R E L L
THE NATUR AL R E SO URC ES & OU TD OOR R E CR E ATIO N TR UST FU N D FORM U LA Lake restoration Trails
10% Local conservation partnerships
Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP)
and water protection
ILLUSTRATION: ANDREA PIEKARCZYK
LOCA L C ONSERVATI ON PA RT NER SHI PS Conservation and outdoor recreation can substantially boost local and rural economies. Funds allocated to local partnerships will drive improvements to city parks and campgrounds, and fund outdoor education programs. These monies will be available to county conservation boards, cities or nonprofits working in tandem to create more outdoor opportunties at a local level.
RE S OURCE E N HA NC EMENT AN D P ROT E CT IO N (REA P ) Each year, Iowaâ€™s REAP program supports local projects that improve or protect wildlife habitat, public land, conservation education and cultural attractions. Iowa law states that the REAP program should receive $20 million annually, but the program has never been fully funded. Money awarded through REAP grants is often tripled by private donors. The trust fund would more than double the average annual REAP allocation.
LAKE RE STORAT IO N Iowans want safe, healthy lakes that provide a full range of aesthetic, ecological and recreational benefits. Lakes in Iowa create $1.6 million in in-state spending every year, but at least 69 of lakes tested in Iowa are on the impaIred list. Trust fund money would help implement restoration of 93 significant public lakes by 2030. Success stories like Clear Lake show that lake visitation at restored lakes exceed state average levels.
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
S OI L C ONSERVATI ON AND WAT ER PR OTEC TI ON Funding programs that allow Iowans to implement conservation practices on their land is vital for Iowa’s soil health and the success of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Over $16 million in funding requests for cover crops, terraces, buffer strips, wetland construction, grass waterways and grade stabilization went unfunded in 2015.
N AT URAL RE S O U RC ES Sufficient funding is needed to manage, restore and create Iowa’s public recreational and hunting lands. Outdoor recreation in Iowa generates more than $6.1 billion in consumer spending annually, yet the Iowa DNR hasn’t seen a budget increase since 2009, stalling the establishment and enhancement of state parks, preserves, forests and wildlife habitats.
T R A I LS Trails connect Iowans to small communities and Iowa’s natural places. They are vital to rural and urban families looking for healthy and safe recreational opportunities. Last year alone, $19.5 million was requested for 36 trail projects across Iowa. Only $2.5 million was budgeted and awarded through the Statewide Recreational Trails Fund.
WATERS H E D P ROT E CT ION Iowa faces serious water quality and annual flooding issues. Watershed protection and wetland restoration are key to naturally filtering and capturing Iowa’s water sources. Along with additional projects from the formula’s other sections, almost 70% of the trust fund would go toward practices outlined in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
To learn more and pledge your support, visit www.iowaswaterandlandlegacy.org. inhf.o r g
PIECES OF A
PUZZLE INHF often describes the work we do as “putting the puzzle pieces together”: creating large, connected corridors of protected space through small, incrimental, strategic projects.
In the pages following, we take a closer look at projects that are creating these corridors in Central Iowa. The Des Moines River and South Skunk River greenbelts hold the key to bringing wildness to Iowa’s most urbanized region. With unique partners and a vision for the future, INHF is working to create connected habitat and recreational opportunities, bridging gaps that extend from Boone and Ames to Lake Red Rock and beyond.
RONALD “DICK” JORDAN FAMILY WILDLIFE AREA
HEART OF IOWA NATURE TRAIL
HIGH TRESTLE TRAIL
BIG CREEK STATE PARK
RACCOON RIVER VALLEY TRAIL
CHICHAQUA BOTTOMS GREENBELT
NEAL SMITH TRAIL
CHICHAQUA VALLEY TRAIL
MITCHELLVILLE PRAIRIE CITY TO MITCHELLVILLE TRAIL
GAY LEA WILSON TRAIL PLEASANT HILL
NEAL SMITH NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
WEST DES MOINES
GREAT WESTERN TRAIL
RED ROCK WMA
Lake Red Rock
Public natural area INHF project Central Iowa Trail System
City/town boundary Iowa Natural Heritage FA L L 2 0 1 6
IN F O CUS: CE NTR AL IOWA G R EENWAYS
refuge BY JOE JAYJAC K
OME CENTRAL IOWANS would never guess that less than half an hour from their door, an opportunity to step back in time awaits. Travel east along Highway 163, and you’re transported to a landscape wildlife and humans traversed centuries ago. The windblown prairies, oak savannas and herds of bison and elk at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge are a snapshot of pre-European settlement Iowa — a look back at the state’s natural heritage. The refuge sits in the southwest corner of Jasper County
near Prairie City, just a few miles north of the Des Moines River valley. The diverse tallgrass prairie stands in contrast to working landscape around the refuge. The site is home to hundreds of native plant species, more than 200 bird species and dozens of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. The refuge hasn’t always looked like this. For more than a century, most of the land that now makes up the refuge was working land — cropland and pastures that are so familiar to Iowans today. Following the energy crisis in the 1970s, Iowa Power and Light Company (now known as MidAmerican Energy) purchased much of this farmland with the intention of building a nuclear power plant. When that plan was scrapped in the late 1980s, U.S. Congressman Neal Smith saw an opportunity. inhf.o r g
— JOE McG OV E R N INHF President
Smith championed the effort to create an expansive natural sanctuary, and an act of Congress created the Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge in 1990. It was renamed in honor of Smith in 1998, and is one of only six national wildlife refuges in the state. The mission of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is to actively protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna and sedge meadow, the native habitats existing in Iowa before EuroAmerican settlement. The refuge’s scale is truly impressive: its nearly 5,600 acres is the largest tallgrass prairie ecosystem reconstruction in the world. It’s an ongoing experiment in the protection and restoration of native plants and animals to Iowa’s landscape. The refuge staff is also an education source for landowners hoping to improve natural areas and wildlife habitat of their own property.
Partnership for expansion
And the refuge continues to grow. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which manages the refuge, is authorized to expand the size of the refuge up to 8,665 acres inside the Walnut Creek watershed, by purchasing land from willing landowners. More opportunities to add to the refuge are presenting themselves. But federal funding isn’t always available when land inside the refuge’s expansion boundary comes up for sale. That is where Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge come in. In 2008, INHF bought 840 acres from a private landowner near the south end of the refuge. The rectangular piece was surrounded on three sides by refuge land and includes a section of Walnut Creek. The property is vital for connecting the refuge’s wildlife habitat and protecting the creek’s watershed. But at the time of purchase, there was no clear funding plan for a transfer to USFWS. Because of this uncertainty, the Friends of Neal
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
Smith National Wildlife Refuge provided over half the financial assistance that allowed INHF to hold the property long-term. A large bequest to INHF at the time also helped. “We took that chance together, not knowing how it would play out, but we knew protecting this area was important,” INHF President Joe McGovern said. Earlier this year, the first 100 acres of this piece transferred to the refuge. It was the first land addition to the refuge in almost a decade. Another 230 acres will be transferring soon. “We’re hoping this can inspire more protection around the refuge,” said Ross Baxter, INHF land projects director. “And in the meantime, INHF has been able to work on restoring pieces that will eventually be part of the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge.” In 2015, INHF purchased another 47 acres near the north end of the refuge, adjacent to the bison and elk pen. The Friends of Neal Smith group, a private nonprofit whose goal is to support the refuge mission through volunteering and fundraising, has been vital in making these projects happen. They have provided financial backing to the projects while advocating to local landowners and donors for expanded protection around the refuge. “From the beginning, we’ve seen this as a partnership. We all want to make the refuge an even better place,” McGovern said. The refuge, the friends group and INHF all have the protection and restoration of Iowa’s natural landscape — and helping people make a connection to those natural areas — at the core of their mission. There are few places in Iowa where it can be done at this scale.
ABOVE LEFT: Prairie restoration in progress on land INHF purchased to eventually add to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. ABOVE LEFT: Reconstructed prairire in the refuge. BOTTOM: A monarch lands on New England aster within the refuge. The nearly 5,000 acres of restored prairie within the refuge is home to significant mammal, bird and insect life. Photos by Kerri Sorrell, INHF
inhf.o r g
PRAIRIE CITY TO MITCHELLVILLE TRAIL (IN PROGRESS)
Public access INHF project
NEAL SMITH NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
100-acre section that recently transferred from INHF to USFW
RUNNELLS JASPER COUNTY Red Rock Wildlife Management Area
The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge sits in an region that is home to many large protected conservation areas, like the Lake Red Rock area and the Chichaqua Valley Greenbelt. INHF is working with willing private landowners and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to make the fragmented refuge more whole. Map: INHF
A truly urban refuge
Tallgrass prairie, which used to cover more than 28 million acres in Iowa, is an endangered ecosystem. Less than 0.1 percent of that original tallgrass prairie landscape remains in the state. But few people know just how close this massive restoration effort is to Iowa’s largest metro. Visitors can get from downtown Des Moines to the middle of a roaming bison herd in 30 minutes. The refuge has embraced its urban status: its programs and staff are focused on introducing Iowans to their oncenative landscape and getting people to find, appreciate and care for nature in their community. The Prairie Learning Center hosts educational events, including school field trips, year-round. Newly installed bike lanes along the entrance road to the refuge embraces Iowa’s growing
NEAL SM I T H NATI ONAL WI L DLIFE R E FU GE 14
Iowa Natural Heritage
LEARNING CENTER With classrooms, exhibits, a theater and a nature store, the Prairie Learning Center provides educational programs on topics like prairie and oak savanna to Refuge visitors. FA L L 2 0 1 6
cycling community and connects those on two wheels to Prairie City, and eventually the larger central Iowa trail system (see page 15). And the hiking trails around the refuge allow people to see the native ecosystems at ground level, discovering the diverse plant, bird and insect life that call the refuge home. An elk finding the shade of a massive Cottonwood tree has a timeless feeling. When you see the baby bison frolicking through the prairie in the spring, the migrating monarchs finding milkweed in the summer or the fields of yellow flowers covering the hillsides in the fall, it’s easy to be transported to another era. It’s hard to imagine this area without the refuge. But that makes this partnership — between INHF, the USFWS, the friends group and the surrounding community — that much more important.
Bison, elk and grassland birds (like the short-eared owl) are just some of the wildlife that call the Walnut Creek watershed home. Take a moment to listen to the song of a sedge wren from the tall prairie grass.
Discover the miles of trails that extend from the Learning Center throughout the park. Ride through prairie and oak savanna on paved bike paths friendly to beginners and biking enthusiasts alike.
A new 11-mile trail through Prairie City and Mitchellville will connect to the Refuge, making the park more accessible to the towns, their residents and the people who visit the area.
IN F O CUS: CE NTR AL IOWA G R EENWAYS
missing g link BY SA RA H L E BL A N C
t Mitchellville city limits, through Prairie City and on toward Monroe, a trail is forming that will bring hundreds of riders, walkers and families into small-town Iowa. When a rail corridor became available in 2014, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation took the opportunity to begin to piece together what hopes to be the start of a connection to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail and the Des Moines metropolitan area. The trail is part of a larger vision to connect Central Iowa from Saylorville Lake north of Des Moines to Lake Red Rock in Pella. “It’s been a line on a map for 20 years,” said Andrea Boulton, INHF’s statewide trails coordinator. “It’s exciting to see it finally get a chance to come to fruition.” The almost 11-mile trail will run through more rural parts of Iowa, crossing paths with the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge while taking bike and other trail traffic through intimate communities. In connecting with the five miles of bike lanes within the refuge, the Prairie City trail will bring more people into the natural area to view bison, elk, grassland birds and oak savanna. From Prairie City, the path will connect with a trail under construction leading into Monroe. The 100-foot greenway corridor, including the 10-foot path, will also allow the county to do significant prairie restoration in the area. Jeff Davidson, the Jasper County hometown pride community coach, sees the trail bringing economic opportunities to the towns it rolls through. On popular trails like the High
Prairie City to Mitchellville Trail Jasper County
Trestle, the Great Western and the Raccoon River Valley Trail, Davidson says businesses along the trail are already reporting more riders and visitors year-round. “I think we could easily, on a nice summer day, get some restaurants open and get people spending some money in those towns,” Davidson said when asked about the impact of the Prairie City to Mitchellville Trail. “We could easily have a couple hundred riders a day.” Because of the complexity of trail projects, the path will be tackled in several phases, with the first priority being the link between Prairie City, Monroe and the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.
LAND: 11-mile corridor stretching from Mitchellville to Prairie City on an abandoned Iowa Interstate Railroad rail line SPECIAL FEATURES: Eventual connection to the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, part of the Central Iowa Trail System, and to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge PARTNERS: INHF, Jasper County Conservation, City of Prairie City, City of Mitchellville, Iowa Interstate Railroad i nhf.o rg
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
IN F O CUS: CE NTR AL IOWA G R EENWAYS
river runs BY A BBY H ADE TERPSTRA
PH OTO S BY NATHA N HO U CK
RIOR TO THE 1930S, the South Skunk River was channelized along the western border of a property that’s as flat as you’d expect for central Iowa. Curls of dry oxbows were
left behind, adding a gentle undulation to the bottomlands. Cows grazed beneath the spreading open-grown branches of Bur oak, white oak and walnut trees on the swales of forgotten banks. Crops went in. A house went up. The river continued to make its presence felt, rising up during heavy rain and streaking the soil with sand before retreating to its tamed state. “My dad worked hard,” Marilyn Baldus said, “hauling out the loads of sand the flooding river dumped onto the farmland. He would have liked to see this.” When the 175-acre area fully opens to the public in late 2017, it will be named The Ronald “Dick” Jordan Family A stretch of the South Skunk River runs through the soon-to-be-public Ronald “Dick” Jordan Family Wildlife Area in Story County. This fall, contractors are working to restore seven oxbow wetlands throughout the 175-acre property.
Wildlife Area after Marilyn’s dad. A lifetime resident of Story County, he put together his acreage a bit at a time as nearby pieces became available. “He fished that river, hunted squirrels and rabbits out there,” Marilyn remembers. “We ate a lot of fish!” Marilyn and her brothers, Ernie and Thomas, grew up baling hay, walking beans, feeding cattle and riding horses on the property. “You know, farm kid things,” Marilyn said. Today, sun-flecked grasses ripple in the breeze. Acres of grasslands tickle the imagination, whispering of prairies past and future. The oak and walnut trees remain mighty, magnificent and ready to regenerate as soon as the shrubby understory is cleared out. The house is gone. The cattle are gone. The river still occasionally decorates the crooks of the old oxbows with flood debris, but it no longer scours the land, thanks to the powerful grip of native plant root structures. “Nature is pretty resilient,” Marilyn said. “It hangs around where we let it.” The future will continue to see the emergence of a more natural landscape. This fall, contractors will begin the process of bringing seven oxbow wetlands back to life, adding 13 acres of new wetland habitat. Native grass plantings will be sown through the inhf.o r g
late fall and winter, building up the 35 acres of plantings already done in 2013 through CRP and turning 57 acres of crop ground into waving fields of mesic prairie. The fastgrowing understory of early successional growth shading out the oak and walnut saplings will be cleared away and seven more acres of trees will be planted to help stabilize the riverbank and soften the edge transition between the prairie and savanna. With the 265th Street Water Access and parking lot on the property’s southern edge already used by paddlers and its proximity to Ames, the accessibility of the site is a huge asset. Over 590,000 Iowans live within 30 miles of the property. Paddlers, hikers, birders, hunters, botanists and biologists will easily be able to escape to this area for a day — or an hour — of rustic recreation. Managed as a Wildlife Area, the property will have no maintained trails through its wildliferich landscape. Already green herons and yellow-billed cuckoos have been spotted. The cylindrical papershell mussel, an Iowa State Threatened Species, has been found in the river. Trout lily, Virginia bluebell and spring beauty blooms carpeted the woodland this spring. The diversity is sure to increase over time. “The restoration of the oxbow wetlands will be great for waterfowl as well as upland game. River corridors are amazing wildlife habitat,” said Don Berning of the Pheasants Forever (PF) Story County Chapter. “While PF supports the purchase (of the Jordan property) primarily for hunting, I also think this will be a great outdoor laboratory for students, with so many habitats so close to Ames. Most of the
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
ecosystems found in the state are here on this property – and they’ll only get better.” The larger vision is encouraging, too. Imagine a pathway, a swath of green, extending from the Skunk River Greenbelt north of Ames down the South Skunk River to Chichaqua Bottoms, ten miles to the south. The Ronald “Dick” Jordan Family Wildlife Area is a key piece in this future vision. Neighboring landowners have already shown their conservation commitment — it is hoped that the establishment of this Wildlife Area will encourage others to think about the incredible impact conservation measures can have on a broader ecosystem. Riverbank corridors lined with buffer lands mean less runoff into our waterways and better water quality. The protection also means fewer disaster relief dollars spent replacing washed-away croplands, more of the recreational opportunities Iowans are clamoring for, more recreation dollars being spent in-state, flyways for our migratory species to travel through and a
The Ronald “Dick” Jordan Family Wildlife Area is home to several different landscapes, and will be available for public hunting once transferred and restored.
JUST AROUND THE H SKU SOUT ER
Public access Jordan Property
“This will be a great outdoor laboratory, with so many habitats so close to Ames. Most of the ecosystems found in the state are on this property — and they’ll only get better.” - DON BERNING
Pheasants Forever Story County Chapter
greater diversity of wildlife. Mike Cox, Director of Story County Conservation, concurs. “The Ronald “Dick” Jordan Family Wildlife Area will be a great asset for the residents of Story County. The abundant hunting and interesting landscape will make it an exciting place for residents and visitors to explore.” INHF is holding the land while Story County Conservation comes up with the funds needed to purchase it. Support from local fundraising partners including PF and the Outdoor Alliance of Story County, along with generous private donations, means they are well on their way. The Jordan family was determined to make this happen and their generosity in donating part of the land’s value, paired with the awarding of state and federal grant funding, has brought this $810,000 project to within arm’s reach of the last $50,000. This is more than just 175 acres. It is its own place, with a partnership blend forged specifically for its transformation to public land. It has a particular management plan, carefully crafted for the one-of-a-kind composite of habitats it holds. While it has a very personal history for the Jordan family, it will impact the lives of countless others as the public gets to know it. It will continue to develop richness in its biodiversity and strength and resilience in its ecosystems. Its place in a larger vision for central Iowa, the benefit it brings to water and wildlife and the way it is catalyzing a community with a common desire will be its lasting legacy.
RIVE R BE ND CARROLL PRAIRIE Nevada, IA
Tucked north of Nevada, Iowa, Carroll Prairie is a 49-acre natural sanctuary of prairie and pasture, featuring the winding West Indian Creek and oxbow wetlands. Lorna Carroll Sellberg of Story County sold the property to INHF, donating a portion of the land’s value. It will be transferred to the county conservation board within the next two years in an effort to help fulfill their long-term permanent protection goals for Indian Creek. Sellberg envisions the property’s future as one of public ownership. While the area is currently used by the local Practical Farmers of Iowa cattleman, eventual restoration will mean the removal of cattle to allow additional management of the prairie and wetlands. Carroll Prairie will be transformed into a wildlife area. With half the land’s value already donated, $90,000 is needed to protect and restore the property.
HENDRICKSEN MARSH ADDITION Collins, IA In July, INHF placed a successful bid on Hendrickson Marsh, 36 acres of upland habitat in Story County. Once restored, the addition will largely assist in controlling soil erosion and provide additional upland that will protect the watershed. Water that currently runs through the addition drains into the marsh, and its restoration to native prairie is especially important to improving the marsh’s water quality and growing area wildlife habitat. Once prairie seeding is complete, nongame migratory birds and pheasants will have quality nesting habitat. Progress toward building more wildlife habitat may also make the property popular for pheasant and deer hunting. Once funding is complete, the property will be transferred to the Iowa DNR. Prairie seeding will likely include diverse plant species, including milkweed and forb species that benefit pollinators.
INHF is currently fundraising for these three projects. To learn more and to donate, visit www.inhf.org.
inhf.o r g
“Tadpoles were swimming in the bean field ... It wanted to be a wetland.” - DAVE NEFF
Iowa Natural Heritage
FA L L 2 0 1 6
LA B O R OF
amilies get out of their cars in the parking lot and enter a whole other world,” said Sheri Blough Neff. “They step into the wildness of it.” Dave Neff purchased the 36 acres on the eastern edge of Fairfield in 1999, back when it was farmland. “Tadpoles were swimming in the bean field,” he said. “It didn’t want to be crop land. It wanted to be wetland.” Dave put in an application to the DOT’s wetland mitigation program, and with highway construction happening in adjacent Keokuk County, they were plunged into the thick of converting the field within their first year of ownership. The Neff Wetland is already familiar to residents of Fairfield who frequent the crushed limestone path along the dike. It is bisected by part of the 16-mile Loop Trail that encircles the town of Fairfield, linking Lamson Woods State Preserve to the south with the trails heading to Chatauqua Park. “On a pleasant, blue-sky day we might see 20 people an hour out there,” Dave said. “I grew up in Cleveland,” he added, “playing in a string of linear parks called The Emerald Necklace. On a recent visit the memories flooded back of all the fun times we had. This is one of our hopes, for the future generations to be exposed to this type of greenbelt and have the memories last a lifetime.” “This is a little piece of country life, with country sounds and fresh air,” Sheri said. “You’ll see black snakes tangled in the cattails, sunning themselves. You can hear the coyotes at night crying and chasing. You’ll see ducklings being kicked out of the nest. There are deer tracks and trails weaving through. Our neighbor says it’s a sure sign of spring when he opens the windows and hears the chorus
The Neff family’s donated wetland is serving up nature to Fairfield’s families. BY A BBY HA DE TERPSTRA
of frogs. It’s a chance to see what the different seasons bring.” The Neffs, longtime members of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, turned to INHF to explore permanent land protection options. They decided to donate their property through INHF to Jefferson County Conservation Board with a condition that it remain open for public access. Jefferson County Conservation shares the Neffs’ vision of balancing the wildness of a place with recreation and education. Asked what will change now that the land has traded hands, Sheri emphatically declares, “Nothing! That’s the goal. We want this to be here forever for the kids of the future.” “The county will be responsible for the management long-term,” Dave said, “but in the meantime, we love to pull on our gloves and be hands on. It’s a labor of love.” Dave and Sheri are looking forward to having a pubic celebration commemorating their donation in the spring and sharing their vision of philanthropy with their children and community. “It’s what it’s all about — the good you can do in your lifetime. ‘For Those Who Follow’ resonates with us. We wanted to be sure the next owner of this land will manage and care for it,” Dave said. “And we want the public to know this wetland is here for them. It’s for all in the community, region and state to enjoy.”
Neff Wetland Jefferson County
LAND: 36 acres donated to Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Jefferson County Conservation SPECIAL FEATURES: Public access, restored wetland, multi-use trail PARTNERS: Sheri and Dave Neff, INHF, Jefferson County Conservation
The Loop Trail, a 16-mile route around Fairfield, runs through The Neff Wetland. Photo by Andrea Boulton, INHF
i nhf.o rg
LOOKING OUT FOR IOWA
LEAVIN G A L EGACY
C O N S E RVAT IO N T I P
Cynthia’s wit, gift sustained INHF
Prepping a prairie for spring starts in the fall
Those who phoned or visited the INHF office in the 1990s were greeted by the welcoming voice and efficient service of Cynthia Gorrell Levy. This selfdescribed “apple-cheeked, grey haired old lady with the silver tongue” took pride in providing service as our receptionist and administrative assistant.
Prairies are versatile: you can plant them in your backyard, a sprawling field, with machines or with your bare hands. If you want to build a plant community that will allow a diverse collection of plant, insect and animal species to thrive, a prairie is one of the simplest ways to do your part to help the environment.
Cynthia Gorrell Levy served as INHF’s receptionist and administrative assistant in the ’90s. Her lasting bequest was invested in INHF’s endowment to provide sustained support. Photo from INHF archives
Cynthia hid her feistier side from strangers, but her co-workers enjoyed a steady stream of sarcastic wit. It was the armor that disguised her compassionate heart.
Cynthia’s final gift to INHF was a complete surprise. A legacy to INHF in her estate plans, now invested with our endowment, will always sustain the donations she provided for the mission she loved. Cynthia’s choice to surprise us may have been a kind of armor to deflect any thanks during her lifetime. But her legacy shows her heart. We’re grateful she shared herself so fully with Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation in so many ways. — A N ITA O’GA R A, vice presisdent
IN MEMORY OF Edna Badger Leland Benson Ardis Carrico Paul L. Chapman Jr. Vernon Cherne George T. Clark Susan K. Connell-Magee Ted Crosbie Charlie Cutler
Iowa Natural Heritage
Robert S. Fisher Wade Franck Dean Frantz Dean Grewell Dorothy Mae Grinter Lavola Lizer Doris McDonald Ronald D. McGrew Ida Ruth Miller Roland and Virginia Nelson Del Rose Ostwinkle Marilee Patterson Mary Jane Pearson Lyn L. Preble Don and Luella Reese Mary Julia Schwartz Kent Sheeley
FA L L 2 0 1 6
Prairies are for patient souls, as they may take up to four years to fully thrive. Until then, they will require upkeep such as weeding and limited mowing. Meanwhile, you will be rewarded by the visits of native birds, butterflies and insects that rely on prairie plants for food and survival. If you’re creating a prairie in your backyard, make sure that any non-native grass cover is killed with herbicide treatments and that the area is located in adequate sunlight. Then simply scatter the seeds. Prairies get a little more complicated on a larger scale. If you’re planting prairie large enough that you may need to use a machine, it’s recommended you use the broadcast planting method over drilling. This is preferred because it gives all seeds an equal shot at survival and doesn’t require that the seeds be cleaned of debris or chaff before they enter the seeder. Prairie planting and restoration can be a tricky process. For more in-depth advice, a good place to start is with Iowa tallgrass prairie expert Carl Kurtz’s book “A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction,” found at carlkurtz.com, or the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s website at nrcs.usda.gov.
TR I B UT E GI F TS IN HONOR OF Mike DeCook Sam Frye Kienzle Helen A. Ringgenberg Francis Tielkemeier Travis Young
You should start thinking about planting your prairie between late fall and late winter. Once you have the date, it’s also important to consider where it will grow. Local seeds sourced within a 20-50 mile radius from where they will be planted are the most ideal for native species. To create a diverse and strong prairie, seeds should include a mix of grass, sedges and forbs that will protect it against invasive species. When planting, be careful to keep grasses and sedges equal or less than the forbs mix, since grasses can grow dominant.
Lorraine Skinner Kenneth Sorenson Gilbert Stanek Bart Steele Karene M. Topp Matt Tott Jim Unsworth Donna Zabokrtsky
Prairies large and small should ideally be planted in the fall and winter to give prairie seed time to overwinter. A freeze/thaw cycle helps prairie seed thrive. Photo by Kerri Sorrell, INHF
Find more Iowa places to explore at www.inhf.org/blog Wickiup Hill Natural Area is a natural haven just outside Cedar Rapids city limits. The area features wetlands, hiking trails, an interactive nature center and Indian mounds. Photo by Gary Hamer
On the edge of town BY KAT I E BA N DU R SK I
ust 20 minutes from Iowa’s second-largest city is a protected haven. Wetland, prairie, woodland and savanna ecosystems flourish amidst an urban community. Hundreds of plant, animal and insect species abound. Rare Indian mounds and miles of recreational trail welcome history buffs and thrill seekers alike. The Wickiup Hill Natural Area outside of Cedar Rapids is a 700-acre piece of the Cedar River Greenbelt in Linn County. When combined with adjoining conservation land, the greenbelt offers over 1,700 acres of protected habitat and creates a crucial buffer to benefit water quality. Wickiup Hill, and the surrounding greenbelt, was protected piece by piece over the last three decades. INHF worked closely with the Linn County Conservation Board to purchase 14 sites totaling 1,300 acres between 1986 and 1995. Several neighbors have donated conservation easements that protect their private lands near the public greenbelt lands. This year, INHF has been helping three neighboring families expand this protection. Though not open to the public, easement
lands benefit wildlife, water and the visitors’ experience of nature in the vicinity.
Wickiup Hill Natural Area
Most visitors are attracted to the 10,000-square foot Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center built in 2002. The center features many exhibits, including an interactive prairie, live animals and history on Native American culture. Children and parents can enjoy visions of historic artifact replicas and scents of the maple syrup camp before traveling through a secret passageway from a muskrat hut to the fort. Step outside and experience the bird viewing area, observation deck and wetland boardwalk.
In an effort to develop the connection between young children and the environment, these exhibits focus on drawing children away from technology and toward nature. The center also serves as the nucleus for outdoor education in Cedar Rapids. School-aged children flock to Wickiup Hill for field trips, and programming is offered for all ages.
LAND: 751-acre area in the Cedar River Greenbelt SPECIAL FEATURES: Wetland boardwalk and observation deck, upland and lowland woodland, prairie, hiking trails, Native American burial mounds and public nature center
i nhf.o rg
NON-PROFIT ORG US POSTAGE
DES MOINES, IA PERMIT NO. 1713
505 5th Ave., Suite 444 Des Moines, IA 50309
Frost descends upon the prairie at the private Prairie Creek Wildlife Refuge in Marshall County on a brisk fall morning. Frost often forms in low-lying areas, where dense, cool air collects as the weather changes with the seasons. When a surface cools beyond the dew point, the water vapor in the air is turned to liquid and forms ice crystals on top of the object. Frost can mark the end of the growing season for crops and flowers.
Leave a legacy of clean water, healthy soil and beautiful outdoor places for those who follow. To see how estate giving through INHF can help make your vision for Iowa a reality, contact Cheri Grauer at email@example.com or 515-288-1846.
PHOTO: CARL KURTZ
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's fall 2016 edition.