For the Greater Good

By Heather Jobst on September 22, 2023 in Blog

Rich and Sue Smith purchased the first 54 acres of their 104-acre Ida County property in 1992. They contemplated building their home on its rolling topography and scenic vistas, but soon decided the land should be kept for conservation. Rich’s goal for the land was to increase wildlife habitat, which he did by enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Program in order to restore 80 acres of grassland. He also created food plots and planted trees with his two sons often working alongside him.

Rich was an avid outdoorsman. He helped start the Ida County Pheasants Forever Chapter, serving as its president for 25 years. Rich especially liked to mentor youth. As chapter president, he worked to include kids and families in their annual banquets and felt it was important to encourage youth participation. He would often tour clients and customers around his land and take them hunting. He talked with other landowners about enhancing wildlife habitat. He loved to share his passion for the outdoors.

Rich and Sue SmithThe oasis Rich and Sue stewarded lies adjacent to the 252-acre Crawford Creek Recreation Area and drains to its 62-acre lake. It’s one of Ida County’s most popular parks. In a county with just 574 acres of public parks and wildlife areas, it didn’t take long for people to notice when the Smith’s property came up for sale following Rich’s passing.

“I immediately called INHF and asked for help.” says Zach Hall, Ida County Conservation Director.

Hall knew the area would make an excellent addition to existing public land and preserve much needed habitat. When Sue was approached about selling the property so it could become a public conservation area, she knew that was exactly how she wanted to honor her husband’s legacy. Sue donated a portion of the land value to help ensure the project’s success. That gift helped fuel the fundraising, and an outpouring of community excitement and support soon followed.

Local businesses joined the effort with both Rich and Sue’s former employers contributing. The Ida County Board of Supervisors contributed $100,000 to the fundraising along with many individual private donors. Ida County Conservation successfully applied for a Wildlife Habitat Stamp grant through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources with local conservation groups joining forces to raise the needed match funds.

“The collective efforts gave energy and reinvigorated our conservation community,” said Hall.

But the support wasn’t just local. The Iowa Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers offered up a challenge match to their members, which garnered national attention through their fundraising page and a mention on an episode of a MeatEater’s podcast called Cal’s Week in Review.

Creek draining into nearby recreation area from the Rich Smith Wildlife Area

“The collective efforts gave energy and reinvigorated our conservation community,” Zach Hall, Ida County Conservation Director.

The fundraising is complete, and the land now belongs to the people of Ida County. The Rich Smith Wildlife Habitat Area was opened to public use on September 1.

“It’s important to make sure all Iowans have ready access to nature, and we’re thrilled to have finally done a project in Ida County” said Ross Baxter, INHF’s Senior Land Conservation Director and Counsel.

This park not only preserves Rich’s legacy, but increases the amount of Ida County public land by nearly 20 percent. Sue is confident that public ownership is what Rich would have wanted.

“He’s smiling knowing that his work to create wildlife habitat will continue and allow for more and more people to enjoy the area,” said Sue.

Map of Rich Smith Wildlife Area