case study: indiangrass hills

Mary Brown and Judy Felder

Three friends purchased land in Iowa County and began restoring its prairie remnants. From left, they are Mary Brown and Judy Felder. Sandy Rhodes is pictured below to the left. They protected the property, now called Indiangrass Hills, with two conservation options.
Top photo by Cathy Engstrom/INHF, bottom photo by Judy Felder

Sandy Rhodes

A group of friends with a shared passion for prairies purchased land in Iowa County and set about restoring its native prairie. As prairie plants began to recover, they named the site Indiangrass Hills.

The group had begun exploring permanent protection options, but they had to move quickly when partner Sandy Rhodes was diagnosed with an aggressive illness in 2005. They donated a conservation easement to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and donated the land with a reserved life estate to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.

Sandy has since died, but Judy, Mary and their network of volunteers continue to manage the land’s restoration—with occasional assistance from INHF staff and interns. Because the owners have always practiced and want to maintain high-quality stewardship practices, Sandy also left a substantial bequest to Judy to provide for its long-term care. To avoid the estate and inheritance tax liability that would have reduced Sandy’s gift, Judy disclaimed a portion of the estate, which then passed directly to INHF with no tax.

“The land is restoring itself,” says Mary. “We’re just removing what mankind has done to it. The land does not belong to us; we belong to it. We’re just the caretakers.”

“We want good stewardship of this land to continue after we are gone,” adds Judy. “That’s why we have given it to INHF.”

reprinted from Landowner’s Options, © 2007, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation