Two Families Donate to Protect Important Land in Iowa Great Lakes

Posted on August 22, 2018 in Press Center

McDonald aerial

Photo credit: Emily Martin


Contact Joe Jayjack at or 515-288-1846, ext. 19

OKOBOJI - Two conservation-minded families have partnered with Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) to protect and restore 160 acres near the northeast shore of Big Spirit Lake.

The project will improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and has the potential to expand recreation opportunities in the area. The site, which adjoins the Shore Acres neighborhood and the Trickle Slough Wildlife Management Area, lies east of MiniWakan State Park just south of the Minnesota border.

The majority of the funds needed to protect this land are being donated by Jeff and Elizabeth Wallace and the children of Clifford and Sheila Bowers: Barbara Mendenhall, Bert Bowers and Abby Adams. Thanks to their generosity, INHF is in a position to own and manage the land long-term in a way that benefits water quality and the community.

The two families share a deep, decades-long love of the Iowa Great Lakes that extends across generations.

“When we sold Mom’s property after her death, Bert suggested we look for something important to do in memory of her and Dad,” Mendenhall said. “Conservation land seemed like the right thing for all of us. Bert and Abby insisted it should be land in Dickinson County. This project seemed especially right – perfect, actually.”

Similarly, Jeff and Elizabeth Wallace were looking for a project that would help preserve the water quality in the Lakes area.

“We’re both conservation minded, at home in California and here at the Lakes,” Jeff said. “We want to help preserve and protect the natural resources and beauty of the Lakes area. We have deep roots here.”

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Both families searched for a conservation project that would offer exceptional impact as well as personal satisfaction.

“I knew from friends who live at Shore Acres that a lot of people had been trying to figure out for a long time how to slow the run-off and siltation there,” said Mendenhall. “Restoring land at the north end of the chain of lakes will ultimately benefit water quality in each of the Iowa Great Lakes as water moves through the lakes system.”

“We couldn’t be more grateful to the donors whose amazing generosity puts us in a position to restore and care for this land long into the future,” INHF President Joe McGovern said. “We’re also grateful to the John McDonald Trust, which owned the property, for deciding to sell their long-time family land for conservation. We’re truly humbled and honored to be part of this project.”

The Bowers tribute gift came through a special fund at The Nature Conservancy in Iowa, which was able to leverage the tribute for additional land protection. Mendenhall has served on The Nature Conservancy in Iowa Board of Directors and provided leadership for numerous other conservation efforts locally.

McDonald aerial

Photo credit: Emily Martin

INHF staff has begun to gather background information and ideas from neighbors, community leaders, agriculture innovators, educators and conservation peers about this site and its potential.

“Our primary focus is to reduce the amount of soil and nutrients entering the lake, but we’re hoping to do much more than that,” said McGovern. “We’re listening for ideas. We’re listening to the recent farm tenant and working toward a fresh conservation lease with them. We’re intent on making decisions and future plans for this land that benefit conservation, wildlife and the community. Together we can all continue to learn how to care for this land and water we all love.”

“Our hearts are here, especially when we see another generation making memories at the Lakes now,” said Adams. “We just want to do what we can do.”

If you would like to learn more, get involved or donate to the project, please contact INHF Vice President Anita O'Gara at or 515-288-1846, ext. 18.