Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is working with the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America to purchase one of the largest remaining tracts of native woodland and grassland in single ownership today in Iowa. The Little Sioux Scout Ranch (LSSR) consists of 1,776 acres of oak woodland and savanna, numerous picturesque prairie ridges, a 17-acre lake and established hiking trails in the Loess Hills of Monona County.
The Loess Hills landscape is a globally unique area consisting of ridges formed by wind-blown soil. 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).
The LSSR, as well as the surrounding LHSF, 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).
In 2017, a Forest Wildlife Stewardship plan was completed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This plan will be used as a reference for future management and aligns with the management of the adjacent Loess Hills State Forest.
The site is currently owned and managed by the Mid-America Council of the Boys Scouts of America and has been run as a scout camp for more than five decades. On June 11, 2008 a deadly EF3 tornado struck the LSSR, injuring 48 and sadly resulting in the loss of life of four young scout members: 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.
As part of the purchase, INHF has agreed to::
- Open the land to the public
- Preserve the memorial to the four scouts killed in the 2008 tornado
- Recognize the history of the land as a scout camp for more than 50 years
INHF's option to purchase the property must be exercised by December 31, 2022 to lock in the price of the land. INHF has a goal to raise $2 million of the $7 million needed for this project by the end of 2022.
Once purchased, INHF will work with partners to open the property to the public and expand public use around the Loess Hills State Forest to more than 13,000 acres. The Boy Scouts will continue to use the area for remote or backcountry camping. With the purchase of Little Sioux Scout Ranch, the public will be able to enjoy the vast wilderness of this Loess Hills treasure, too.