Gunderson Nature Park, where community meets conservation

By Lisa Hein on August 31, 2017 in Blog

Gunderson Nature Park in Eldora is bringing young and old together outside.

The 12-acre setting that is now Gunderson Nature Park in Eldora has had a variety of purposes since Bob and Mary Lou Gunderson bought the land in the 1960s.

Bob and Mary Lou GundersonThe Gundersons initially ran a cow and calf operation on the land, “to help our kids learn about hard work, agriculture and operating a business,” said Bob. After a drop in the cattle market, the land became a Christmas tree farm and then transitioned into prairie and wetland: a private outdoor adventure area, and habitat once familiar to Hardin County.

Having grown up playing outdoors and in the woods, both Bob and Mary value nature as a place to play, grow and learn. As a businessman, Bob believes that access to public outdoor recreation areas attract potential employees and retain a quality workforce.

Today, this re-created native ecosystem is no longer limited to private access. It has become a public nature park for young and old to play, walk, listen and explore. Located next to Pine Lake State Park and the Iowa River Greenbelt, the park weaves nature into the edge of town while serving as a gateway to the state park.

“We’re very proud of the efforts that groups, individuals and the county have pursued to protect wild areas along the Iowa River Greenbelt over the years,” said Bob. “This project has been one of the most satisfying activities we’ve ever been involved in.”

In the last couple of years, the site has changed dramatically: While the expanded prairie and savanna restoration dominate the site, the park also offers a paved loop trail and informational displays for visitors. Last year, volunteers helped plant over 300 trees at the park. Plans for this coming year call for establishing a wetland-viewing platform, and placing climbing boulders and a few benches along the trail. There is plenty of restored habitat that offers free-range fun for school kids to explore; and the paved trail provides a secure walking facility for all, especially some older and mobility-challenged persons who live in the neighborhood.

The concepts of nature play and the bond between human health and spending time outdoors inspired the park design prepared by Ritland + Kuiper Landscape Architects. Reduced stress, improved focus and creativity, faster healing, and increased environmental literacy are just some of the many benefits of getting outdoors.

With less than 1% of the land in Hardin County in public ownership, having easily accessible places for all ages and income levels is vital for human health and wellbeing. Gunderson Nature Park helps bring nature a little closer to home. 

Park improvements and the transition to public ownership is being guided by INHF and the City of Eldora with considerable financial support from public and private sources, including a state Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant, Hardin County Community Endowment Foundation, Barlow Family Foundation, Iowa Grocery Association, 100+ Women Who Care – Hardin County, the Throssel Family, Wood Family Foundation, over 120 individuals and Bob and Mary Lou Gunderson.