BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Conservation District just expanded it’s share of public lands by about 162 acres… more or less.
The LCCD board approved accepting the gift, which includes property on the Des Moines River, from the family of John H. Clarke, a lifelong resident of Keokuk and former Iowa State Representative.
The land is just north of the river adjacent to the Red Wing area and has to be maintained as an emergency watershed for eternity. Hunting will also be prohibited on most of the property according to LCCD Director Nathan Unsworth.
“Their wishes are to find ways to utilize the property for public educational programs and/or recreational activities and they have asked us to have this serve as a wildlife refuge and to restrict hunting on the main portions of the property,” Unsworth said.
“I hope lots of good things will come out of that for everybody,” said Colette Clark, John’s wife. “I’m excited about it and so are the girls.”
Collete is a retired Keokuk school teacher and has had interest in natural resources. She and the couple’s two daughters approached the district about the possibility of donating the land in her husband’s name.
Because it’s an emergency watershed, Unsworth said the land can no longer be used for agricultural or industrial purposes. In 2019 the entire area was underwater.
“There’s going to be restrictions on the management side of this once we get. But there are some positive opportunities for us to create an area down there for the public to enjoy,” he said.
Board president Tom Pollpeter said the addition will allow the county to secure additional river access.
“To be able to protect access to the river is vitally important,” Pollpeter said. “I believe this will be one of our premier properties down the road, every bit as valuable as Turkey Run.”
Clark served in the Iowa legislature from 1970 to 1982. He died in 2019.
Unsworth said the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Lee County Attorney’s office assisted in the negotiations for the property.
In an unrelated matter, but the board also purchase about 1.5 acres of property near Chatfield Lake for close to $5,000. Unsworth said it was assumed the district owned the property which has a parking lot and almost all of a boat ramp into the lake, but a survey conducted on a recent private purchase showed that the district didn’t own the property.
Unsworth said the current owner is supportive of the purchase as it will clarify the property lines and remove any liability on the boat ramp and the parking lot.