County expands public areas

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Recreation area purchased near Kirkville

By WINONA WHITAKER

Courier staff writer

OTTUMWA — Wapello County has a new public area for outdoor enthusiasts as a result of the County Conservation Board’s acquisition of 81 acres south of Kirkville.

Purchased from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the land had a long, complicated journey to county ownership, said Kurt Baker, director of the WCCB.

"The acquisition process has taken about a year and a half to complete," said Baker in a press release. "Land acquisitions are always challenging because rarely… does a government entity have the available funds to make a land purchase outright."

Funds are usually acquired via grants or fundraising events, Baker said, and that process takes time. "Grants are extremely competitive, and just because you write a grant does not mean funding success," said Baker.

According to Baker, WCCB became interested in the property when it became available for purchase in the summer of 2015. WCCB collaborated with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a private conservation agency that works statewide to improve Iowa’s natural resources, to acquire the land. INHF purchased the property from KF Holding, Incorporated in November 2015, giving WCCB time to obtain the $159,000 to buy the land for Wapello County.

"Without the ability of the INHF to secure property quickly, far fewer public acres would be available to Iowans," Baker said.

WCCB applied for a Wildlife Habitat Grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Baker said. The grant is paid for by the $13 habitat stamps required when buying hunting licenses. A limited amount of money is available each year, Baker said, and the Kirkville project was competing for funding against eight other counties.

After submitting to the standard review process, WCCB received the $64,687 it had requested of the DNR.

The balance needed to buy the Kirkville property came from the county’s share of the DNR’s Resources Enhancement and Protection money, Baker said.

REAP is funded by Iowa gaming receipts and from the sale of natural resource license plates.

No local tax money was used to purchase the land, Baker said.

The property is about two miles south of Kirkville on 185th Street, and the road can be impassible at times. WCCB plans to create a parking area and establish boundary signs this spring to mark the perimeter of what it is calling the Kirkville Natural Area.

Because Wildlife Habitat stamp money was used in the purchase, the area will be open to hunting and! trapping, Baker said. The newly a! cquired property is comprised of 71 acres of forest, seven acres of previously mined area and 3.7 acres formerly enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program grassland. The area contains deer, turkey, squirrel and rabbit as well as song birds.

Public land acquisition for natural resource management and public recreation is critical in Iowa, Baker said, because only 3 percent of land area in the state is in public ownership, ranking Iowa 49th in the nation.

Wapello County has less than half that figure, making it difficult for Wapello County residents to find and use public land, "so any additional land purchased for resource management and public use needs is to be celebrated," Baker said.

Reporter Winona Whitaker can be contacted at wwhitaker@ottumwacourier. com and followed on Twitter @courierwinona.

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