In late 2022, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation purchased the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in western Iowa from the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
INHF 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.
Why protecting LSSR was necessary
It is vast
The average privately owned parcel of land in the Loess Hills is around 100 acres. At almost 1,800 acres, LSSR offers unsurpassed opportunities for outdoor recreation such as hiking, birdwatching, wilderness camping, fishing and hunting. The property has 25 miles of trails and a 20-acre lake.
It is unique
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) owned by the DNR.
It is a refuge
The 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 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.
“I can see Eagle Scout projects being done for generations at Little Sioux. Arbor Day can be celebrated by planting native trees. Scouting will continue to have a presence there,” said Chris Mehaffey, CEO of the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). “When parents want to take their kids back to where they did scouting, they’ll be able to do that. It will be the same place, the same topography. There are a ton of people here that know of Little Sioux because of the tornado, but there’s not a whole lot of them that have been there. Now they’ll be able to go and get to know this place.”