Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation purchases Little Sioux Scout Ranch

By Joe Jayjack on January 25, 2023 in Press Center

Joe Jayjack, INHF Communications Director, 515-288-1846, ext. 19

Aerial view of the LSSR in fall

Photo by Buck Christensen

LITTLE SIOUX, Iowa — Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) has purchased the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in western Iowa from the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

INHF, a nonprofit conservation group, raised nearly $2 million before Dec. 31, when it had to exercise an option to purchase the property. Lead donations of $500,000 from Polina and Bob Schlott of Crescent, $500,000 from the Iowa West Foundation of Council Bluffs, $300,000 from the Gilchrist Foundation of Sioux City and $250,000 from the MidAmerican Energy Foundation — along with hundreds of other private donations — made it possible to purchase the vast wilderness area.

The 1,776-acre property has been used as a scout camp for more than 50 years by troops from Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. In 2021, the Gilwell Foundation, which owns all the properties used by the council, came to the difficult decision to sell the camp due to declining attendance. At that time, INHF purchased an option to buy the property that expired at the end of 2022, setting a goal to raise $2 million for the project, which will cost more than $7 million in total. 

“The support for this project has been amazing,” said INHF President Joe McGovern. “Donors have told us they want to see this place protected — staying in one piece and not being developed — but they’re also excited to see it opened to the public eventually.”

In working on the sale with the council, INHF has agreed to do three things: Open the property to the public; maintain the memorial to four boys that died in a 2008 tornado on the property; and honor and share the history of LSSR as a scout camp.

INHF will work with the Mid-America Council to allow scouts to continue to use the property in the near-term while public access and management plans are developed. INHF will also work with partners to open the property to the public and expand use around the adjacent Loess Hills State Forest, which is owned by the state of Iowa and managed by the Iowa DNR.

While the property won’t immediately be open to the public, there will be a public open house and celebration on the site, tentatively scheduled for Thursday, May 11.

The land, which sits about halfway between Omaha and Sioux City, is mostly old-growth oak woodland and remnant prairie in the Loess Hills, a globally unique area consisting of ridges formed by wind-blown soil. There are more than 25 miles of established trails and a 20-acre lake, making this an ideal spot for hiking, birdwatching, wilderness camping, fishing and hunting.

INHF will continue to fundraise for costs associated with the purchase and management of the property. People interested in supporting the protection of Little Sioux Scout Ranch can contact INHF Director of Philanthropy Abby Hade Terpstra at or 515-809-5676.

More about Little Sioux Scout Ranch

It is vast: The average privately owned parcel of land in the Loess Hills is around 100 acres. At almost 1,800 acres, it is also one of the largest privately owned natural areas in the state, and one of the few that offers this sense of remote wilderness.

It is unique: This property is located within the Loess Hills Bird Conservation Area (BCA), the Little Sioux Special Landscape Area (SLA), and along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway. It is directly adjacent to different tracts of the Loess Hills State Forest (LHSF) owned by the DNR.

It is a refuge: LSSR is home to several state listed endangered, threatened or of special concern plant and animal species. These include the plains pocket mouse (Perognathus flavescens), numerous butterfly species and the bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi). Threatened plant species include narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias stenophylla) and scarlet globe-mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea).

It is a memorial: On June 11, 2008, a deadly EF3 tornado struck the LSSR, injuring 48 and killing four young scouts: Aaron Eilerts, Josh Fennen, Ben Petrzilka and Sam Thomsen. The memorial erected on site will continue to honor the memory of these scouts after ownership changes.

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Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit conservation group that works with private landowners and public partners to protect and restore Iowa's land, water and wildlife. Since its founding in 1979, INHF has helped protect more than 190,000 acres of Iowa's natural resources. Learn more at