25 Pivotal Projects
|INHF interns get a broad education in nonprofit organizations and Iowa conservation.
This article was printed in Spring 2004, INHF's 25th anniversary, as part of the special anniversary edition of the our magazine. A few of the facts are now out-of-date, but the basic themes are still true today.
People often ask Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation staff members to name our "favorite" or "most important" of our nearly 600 completed land projects (and countless more educational or other non-land projects). There's no easy answer.
However—though INHF's mission remains unaltered since 1979—a few projects significantly influenced how we implement that mission, how we and other groups "do" conservation, how outsiders perceive INHF or how we perceive ourselves. So, while we won't claim the following 25 projects are necessarily INHF's most pivotal, each has a story to tell—and their combined stories tell a lot about this organization.
1) INHF's magazine
INHF has always emphasized communications. We converted our member newsletter to a magazine format early on—and we've since expanded the magazine's size, photography, color and content. One of the most frequent responses to its gorgeous nature photography is "I never knew Iowa was so beautiful"—music to our ears! We're constantly reminded that long-term conservation means working both on the land and on people's view of the land.
2) Whitham Woods
INHF's first completed project was unanticipated. In 1980 Daisy Iowa Whitham donated 130 wooded acres near Fairfield, asking INHF to be her "eyes into the future." Since then, INHF has worked with hundreds of other Iowans who want peace of mind about the future of their land's natural features. Learn more about Whitham Woods.
3) Mines of Spain
For its second land project, INHF tackled a site many others had tried and failed to protect. In addition to historic Spanish lead mines and Julien Dubuque's gravesite, this Dubuque site contains 1300 wooded acres and 3.5 miles of Mississippi River blufflands frontage. INHF helped the landowner see the tax benefits of a bargain sale and then arranged for more than $3 million in federal, state and private funding. Completed in the final days of 1980, this project quickly established our fledgling group as a "can-do" organization—able to handle big budgets, multiple partners and significant natural resources. Learn more about the Mines of Spain.
4) Iowa's Natural Heritage book
In 1982 INHF and the Iowa Academy of Science published Iowa's Natural Heritage, a coffee-table book that celebrates Iowa's natural resources with text and stunning color photos. It was INHF's signature education and communications piece for many years—and it's still used in some college classrooms. This experience guided us through many future publishing endeavors, including guides for landowners and trail users, but this book remains our most ambitious publication.
5) Cedar Valley Nature Trail/Heritage Trail
In the early 1980s, building trails along Iowa's abandoned railroad corridors was a new and controversial idea. At the request of local partners, INHF helped sort through the complicated legal, real estate and political issues that surround trails. Once the 52-mile Cedar Valley Nature Trail (Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls/Waterloo) and 26-mile Heritage Trail (Dyersville to Dubuque) were complete, more people recognized their value for wildlife habitat, prairie restoration, economic development and quality of life. Spurred by these early successes, INHF has since helped local partners create about half of Iowa's "rail-trails."
6) 1985 Farm Bill
The 1985 Federal Farm Bill contained the first provisions for private conservation easements held by the USDA. INHF worked with Iowa's Congressional delegation in drafting those provisions and organizing support from national organizations. The program's success influenced several future USDA easement efforts, like the popular Wetland Reserve Program. Today INHF works through the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and others to shape federal conservation programs. Meanwhile, we support rural landowners through our publications, website and staff contacts. With 98% of Iowa's land in private ownership, such work is a critical part of conservation.
7) Meredith Marsh
INHF assembled this Hancock County site through three purchases during 1988-89. Meanwhile, we assembled diverse funders and partners—ranging from federal and state government to Ducks Unlimited to Forest City middle schoolers (who raised funds by selling gum-chewing permits). Now owned by the Iowa DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the site's once-drained lake beds and prairie potholes have been restored—providing numerous wildlife and recreation opportunities. INHF and partners have since restored thousands of wetland acres throughout the state. Learn more about the Meridith Marsh.
8) Iowa River Greenbelt
Since 1987, INHF has partnered with a unique coalition of citizens, communities and other levels of government to protect and promote the scenic Iowa River in Hardin County. The Iowa River Greenbelt Resource Trust (a special committee of INHF) developed a comprehensive plan for the greenbelt, outlining a mix of wilderness areas, recreation areas, trails and scenic drives—adding private sector support to work that the Hardin County Conservation Board had been doing for years. This master plan helped the county win many state and federal grants, get an eco-friendly design for the new Highway 20 bridge and protect hundreds of acres for wildlife and recreation. This greenbelt was INHF's first regional planning project but, thanks to its success, not our last. See more about this featured destination.
9) Dickinson County Clean Water Alliance
In 1989, INHF helped form an alliance of public and private groups to protect Iowa's "Great Lakes." INHF hired the first Alliance coordinator—and remains an active partner today. By developing joint plans and priorities, the Alliance has brought in millions of state and federal dollars. It has protected thousands of acres through public acquisition and private conservation easements, often with INHF assistance. INHF has since encouraged alliances in other watersheds, including Clear Lake and the Raccoon River.
10) Trees Forever
In 1989 Iowa's fledgling Trees Forever organization asked INHF to lend its management and fiscal expertise. The group stayed under INHF's wing from 1990-1994—while we helped them organize funding and new programs. By 1994 Trees Forever was a thriving, statewide organization in its own right-with tree-planting programs in numerous Iowa communities. Though not on such an extensive scale, INHF has helped launch or foster several other groups: the Iowa Environmental Council, Salisbury House Foundation and numerous watershed alliances.
11) Hitchcock Nature Area
Once a popular YMCA camp in Iowa's Loess Hills, this site's subsequent owner began constructing a landfill on its unstable soils—then filed for bankruptcy. After years of persistent effort to block further destruction and clear two bankruptcies from the site, INHF purchased it at a sheriff's sale in 1991. We transferred it to the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board. Now expanded, Hitchcock is the county's premiere park—featuring native and restored prairie, wildlife habitat, trails and many public programs and events. Hitchcock taught us never to give up—a lesson that was reinforced when we secured another beautiful park addition in 2004. View details about the Hitchcock Nature Area.
12) Woodford-Ashland Lone Tree Point Nature Area
In 1992 Marcia and Jim Connell and their family donated a conservation easement on 101 acres, which includes 4300 feet of undeveloped shoreline along Clear Lake. Unlike most easement donors, the Connells still allow public hiking and picnicking on their privately owned land. Meanwhile, INHF staff continue to advise them in managing and restoring the landscape. Lone Tree wasn't our first conservation easement, but it was the first to get statewide media attention—and it paved the way for a surge of later easement donations. View our project page about Woodford-Ashland Lone Tree Point Nature Area.
13) Iowa by Trail
Because natural resources won't stay protected unless people experience and appreciate them, INHF published Iowa by Trail—a book of trail maps and descriptions—in 1992. Now in its fourth edition, this popular book inspired many other "get outdoors" promotions—such as our website's "Explore Iowa" section (an online guide to enjoying Iowa's outdoors), the annual Statewide Prairie Rescue (a multi-organization effort to help Iowans see and save our prairies) and the "25 outdoor events" campaign honoring our 25th anniversary.
14) Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt
When the 1993 floods brought significant federal wetland funding to Iowa, INHF targeted key sites for extensive public wetland/habitat complexes-including the old Skunk (Chichaqua) River floodplain. Thanks to great landowner participation (helped by INHF's willingness to accommodate their needs with like-kind exchanges and other assistance) and partners like the Polk County Conservation Board and Iowa DNR, this greenbelt now extends more than 10 miles in Polk and Jasper counties. More than half its 8000 acres were acquired with INHF assistance. Chichaqua reminds us that—even in metropolitan counties—it's still possible to restore extensive habitat and recreation areas, but these dwindling opportunities require planning, quick action and strong partners. Learn more about this project.
15) Horseshoe Bend division of Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge
Horseshoe Bend—near where the Iowa River joins the Mississippi in Louisa County—was devastated by the 1993 floods. That and decades of smaller floods convinced local farmers to dissolve this entire levee district. INHF coordinated funding and implemented 27 land deals to acquire the floodplain habitat, while helping landowners acquire better crop ground. At 2,600 acres and $2 million, Horseshoe Bend remains one of INHF's most complex and proudest achievements—and is nationally recognized as a model for alternative floodplain management. See more about Horseshoe Bend.
16) South Pine Creek
INHF has completed six projects along South Pine Creek in Winneshiek County, one of the few Iowa streams to harbor native brook trout. Our staff began personally contacting stream-side landowners in 1994—discussing voluntary management and protection options in this fragile habitat. Thanks to partnerships with these landowners, private organizations like the Hawkeye Flyfishing Association and public groups like the Iowa DNR, some stream sections are now open for public fishing while others are protected by private conservation easements. We continue to protect this and other cold-water streams. Learn about access to this project.
17) Snyder Heritage Farm
A.C. and Gladys Snyder donated their Polk County farm to INHF in 1991. Since then, our staff and interns have planted more than 60 acres of native prairie species, created wetlands and begun restoring the native oak savanna. Though still a work in progress, Snyder Farm may be INHF's best demonstration of our increasing commitment to not only land protection, but also long-term land stewardship. More about Synder Heritage Farm.
18) Internship program
In 1986 the R.J. McElroy Trust of Waterloo funded one college intern to see if we could help college students grow and if they could further our mission. With that initial success and the Trust's long-term support—recently supplemented by additional funding—INHF now hires a dozen interns per year. Their talent and energy are especially evident in our communications and land stewardship efforts. In addition to doing meaningful work, our interns get a broad education in nonprofit organizations and Iowa conservation. Many interns say the experience influenced their later careers. They've certainly influenced us. More information about our internship program.
Though not a lobbying organization, INHF worked with multiple partners to create Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, which invests state funds in parks, trails, soil and water conservation, environmental education and historic preservation. Created in 1989, REAP is a national model for conservation funding and has provided nearly $156 million to programs and projects in every Iowa county. REAP works because it unites conservation groups around a shared vision, and we've repeated that model on issues ranging from trails to water quality.
20) Mississippi River Blufflands Alliance
Ecosystems don't end conveniently at state borders. That's why, in 1993, INHF and similar organizations in three other states created the Blufflands Alliance, a group devoted to protecting the beautiful blufflands region of the upper Mississsippi River. Thanks to supportive private landowners and significant financial support from the McKnight Foundation, the Alliance has protected about 15,000 acres in the four-state area. By working together, INHF and our partners have attracted millions of dollars in private and federal funding to address local and regional conservation challenges. Learn more at the Blufflands Alliance website.
21) Wabash Trace Nature Trail
INHF began working with the Southwest Iowa Nature Trails, Inc., (SWINT) in 1988 and soon acquired the 768-acre Wabash Trace Nature Trail corridor. Built in segments and finally completed in 1998, this 63-mile trail connects Council Bluffs, Mineola, Silver City, Malvern, Imogene, Shenandoah, Coin and Blanchard. Aided by incredible grassroots support and thousands of donors, it became the first trail linking communities in western Iowa. Like many other INHF trails, it has spurred expansions (like the Council Bluffs and Omaha trail systems) and is now part of the region's tourism promotion. Learn more about this trail.
22) Landowner's Options
Before 1982, Iowa's landowners could get publications on land management techniques—but not on how to permanently protect those management efforts. INHF met that need by publishing The Landowner's Options adapted from publications in other states to fit Iowa's landscapes and law. Now in its sixth edition, this free booklet introduces interested landowners to 18 protection options-from conservation easements to bargain sales. INHF has since created other landowner publications like A Bird's Eye View (2003), which advises landowners on protecting habitat for migrating birds, and our upcoming woodland stewardship guide.
23) Heritage Addition to Effigy Mounds National Monument
This project—1,045 acres in Allamakee County-literally took 20 years, $1.5 million and an act of Congress. Its complexity and value are reflected in its diverse funders: the National Park Service (because the addition expands the national monument), the Iowa Department of Transportation (because it's along a scenic byway), the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (because it contains effigy mounds) and more than 1000 private donors (because they recognized this rare opportunity). Though INHF completed this project in 2000, it continues to inspire our staff and board when we're contemplating other important, yet demanding, projects. About this project.
24) Upper Iowa River
The Upper Iowa River is Iowa's only site eligible for designation as a National Wild and Scenic River, so INHF has a long history here. We protected a portion of Chimney Rocks and the palisades in 1987—and then river access points in 1989. Public interest in protecting this corridor surged in the late 1990s in response to increasing development along once-pristine bluffs. Since 2000, we've helped local landowners place 15 conservation easements that protect more than 1500 acres, including the rest of the Chimney Rocks area. See more about this featured destination.
25) INHF website
Since its origianl launch in 1997 and relaunch July o, INHF's website (www.inhf.org) has become critical to our public education goals. Initially designed to provide basic organizational information and news for our members, the site now offers resources—like "Explore Iowa" and "Ecology College"—for students, landowners, tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. We recently added monthly e-mails to guide members and others to new web highlights. Thanks to intern support, we update the site almost daily and can host partner sites—like the annual Statewide Prairie Rescue pages. Our website has changed how we communicate with INHF members and how others learn about INHF and Iowa's outdoor treasures.