A Place for People
There are two types of magic. The first is found in the waving of wands and strings of whimsical words. The second is more intangible. This magic shows itself when people come together for the betterment of the community, and it’s in Cherokee, Iowa.
In 2017, the people of Cherokee came together to develop Magnetic Park, a 55-acre linear park and trail corridor connecting citizens and visitors to natural, cultural and historical resources in the area. With Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation’s (INHF’s) help, they’re well on their way to bringing that magic to their own backyards.
This story of Magnetic Park begins with a restorative spring and some entrepreneurial spirit. When visitors to Cherokee started claiming a local spring healed their ailments in the late 1800s, people flocked to the city. Cherokee resident George Satterlee began charging – 25 cents a gallon, 35 for a bath. With help from a local banker, he built a three-story resort and brought economic prosperity, horse racing and Buffalo Bill (twice) to the county seat.
Three luxurious decades later, legal disputes over a poorly-placed well and flooding from the Little Sioux River closed Satterlee’s resort in 1910. The land became a dairy farm and its past was largely forgotten. Only Magnetic Lake remained – a fraction of its former size and glory. A century later, the land came up for sale in 2017. INHF purchased the property after conversations with the local trails committee and community leaders about the potential of the property.
The community effort was led by the local trails committee, which includes 20 volunteers committed to improving and expanding Cherokee’s existing trails. Once complete, Magnetic Park will link two of the area’s largest trail segments for a total of six Once complete, Magnetic Park will link two of the area’s largest trail segments for a total of six miles. It’s a big moment for a city that values interconnectedness and getting outdoors.
INHF worked closely with the trails committee to acquire the land and prepare grant proposals to support the project. With INHF’s help, the committee received $250,000 in grants, including $100,000 from from the Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) and $100,000 from Wellmark. Independently, the people of Cherokee raised over a million dollars with local fundraising and support from local businesses.
Jason Cook, president of the trails committee, credits their overwhelming success to the community’s generosity and city pride.
The people of Cherokee wanted a way to get around their community on foot or by bike, not just by car. With these trails, they will be able to commute to work, a friend’s house or local shops, waving at their neighbors as they pass each other on the trail. As of June 2021, a mile and a half has been paved with just under a mile to go.
Magnetic Park’s transformation will be complete this fall, offering opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and ice-skating. An outdoor classroom for use by local schools and the Sanford Museum and Planetarium is also planned. A restored prairie will make for a picturesque view welcoming visitors as they drive into town.
“We have a beautiful town that should be highlighted,” Cook said. “Folks here are proud of where we live and [Magnetic Park] is one more thing to be proud of.”
“This is how projects happen in Iowa,” said INHF Conservation Programs Coordinator Emily Martin, who worked closely with community leaders to help secure support for the project. “With community members who care about their town and want to make it better for each other. They are a shining example of what Iowa communities can do when they come together to better the lives of their fellow citizens.”
A little more magic
Magnetic Park demonstrates how natural land and recreation can work together. Once fully restored, the park will include a 13-acre prairie, two acres of wetland adjacent to the lake, a 22- acre forest and just over half an acre of pollinator gardens.
“Our goal is to keep the park as natural as possible,” Cook said. The park’s restored prairies and wetlands between the City of Cherokee and the Little Sioux River will also mitigate flooding, improve filtration and reduce runoff from surrounding lands. Experts expect the restored land will hold over 380 tons of soil in place annually that could otherwise end up in the river.
Magnetic Park is a project by and for the community. After four years, they are on track to have a beautiful park that will bring recreation, revenue and a little more magic to their city.
“I want communities to know that they can do this too,” Martin said. “If they come together, if they form a committee, then this is possible for them. They can all have a Magnetic Park in their town."