Generations Strong

By Anita O'Gara on August 14, 2019 in Blog

GenerationStrongIn 1993, four generations of the Petersen family gathered for the dedication of Vern and Wilmer Petersen Wildlife Management Area in Shelby County. Wilmer Petersen had donated an expanse of grassland and ponds in western Iowa to the state for wildlife and people to enjoy. His son, H. Rand Petersen, had encouraged Wilmer and assisted the donation. One of Wilmer’s youngest great-grandchildren handed the deed to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“Some seeds were planted that day,” Rand’s daughter Katherine (KAP) Linder reflected.

The Petersens are just one of many families who have taken action across generations through Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation over four decades.

“Lots of people really care about this work —about the land itself, or about the future of the state,” Mary Louise said. “The future of the state and the land are connected.”

Rand and Mary Louise Petersen joined and promoted INHF in its earliest days. The Petersens were especially interested in restoration to improve water quality at the Iowa Great Lakes. Mary Louise has loved this area since her childhood, spending time in nature with extended family at the lake home her grandmother established in 1917. After decades of loyal support, Mary Louise and Rand recently donated to the INHF Endowment so that their annual support will continue even beyond their lifetimes.

A deeply held love of Iowa's outdoors has taken root in the next generation of the Petersen family. Photo courtesy of KAP Linder

KAP and her husband, David, made their home at Twin Lakes. They envisioned the opportunity to create a trail and prairie at a spot that had been eroding into the lake. KAP’s parents said, ‘Call the folks at INHF and see if they can help.’ That was KAP’s first introduction to INHF. After the Linders and their neighbors had established Gutz Park and the nature trail with INHF, KAP joined the board of directors.

Now KAP embraces the role of Nature Grammy. Her oldest grandchild Siena, age 6, is especially eager for their nature walks. They watch for Today’s Best Thing, and they are collaborating on a children’s book about enjoying nature together. KAP also loves to observe local eagles and frogs, sharing information with state and national databanks.

“My life has totally changed through my experiences with INHF and through my parents sharing their interest,” KAP said.

Travis Young, shown with his father Rick Young, has provided INHF leadership on our board for more than a decade. Photo provided by Travis Young
Inspiring trails and action

“I actually first got involved with INHF when I was helping to put up signs along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail as a teenager—but I am quite certain I didn’t know what those signs meant or what INHF was,” said Travis Young. “I remember feeling proud while riding my bike with my grandfather, Dick, and my father, Rick, and seeing those signs. Our whole family liked to look for interesting flora and fauna along the trail. I knew my father and grandfather had worked to create the trail.” 

In fact, in the early 1980s, Dick and Rick Young of Waterloo helped bring to Iowa the concept of converting former rail corridors into multi-purpose recreation trails. Iowa had just one, the Cinder Path between Chariton and Humeston. Dick felt trails would be good for the people and communities in Iowa. Rick and their friend Carl Bluedorn shared that vision.

Mary Louise Petersen collects wild grapes via canoe along the shores of Lake Okoboji.

They learned that the rail route between Cedar Rapids and Waterloo was ceasing operations, just as their friend Bob Buckmaster became the first board chair for a brand new conservation organization: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Bob introduced the trio to INHF’s president Gerry Schnepf and newly-hired program director Mark Ackelson. All were enthused about how rail-trail conversions might benefit people, communities and nature. They met with Cedar Rapids volunteers who were also mobilizing to create trails on that end of the corridor.

Very shortly, efforts were launched to create the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. The Youngs, Bluedorns and Buckmasters committed major funds to begin the corridor purchase and the Gilbertville depot restoration. Rick led local promotion, fundraising and construction.

“We spoke to lots of Rotaries and other groups. They’d ask, ‘What’s a bicycle trail?’ It was difficult for Iowans to imagine,” he said.

The concept was controversial. At public meetings, Rick and INHF took a lot of heat from skeptical neighboring landowners and communities. In time, many began to come around. Today, early supporters and skeptics alike enjoy the trail.

“INHF really got the ball rolling on bike trails and other things, too,” Rick recalled. “The more I learned about INHF, the more I liked it.”

Twenty years later, Travis began to volunteer on the INHF board of directors, contributing time and wisdom to diverse projects.

“My own kids don’t bike, but they do breathe Iowa’s air and want clean water in our great state. That provides me with strong incentive to continue to support the work INHF is doing each and every day. I’ve been blessed to follow my grandfather and father’s involvement with INHF, and I look forward to future Iowans benefiting from the work INHF is doing today.”          

All in the family

During INHF’s 40th anniversary, we’re really celebrating people like the Petersens and Youngs. INHF was created to help Iowans take action for our land, water and wildlife. Countless people with drive and vision have been supported or served by INHF in accomplishing amazing, lasting things for their lands and communities. By passing their love of the land to the next generation, the effect grows, with boundless potential.