BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – More than a year into the Lee County Conservation District’s effort to restore property in northwest Lee County to it’s original state, some county residents are now asking the county to take another look preserving part of the farm.
The property in question was owned by Eleanor Denning who’s family inherited the farm in the 1870s, according to Phil Peitz who address the Lee County Board of Supervisors on the issue Monday morning.
The farm was donated to the state and fell under ownership of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It is managed by the Lee County Conservation District.
The state put the property through an investigation with the State Historic Preservation Office who took more than a year to return a report on the study to the LCCD.
Lee County Conservation Board member Tom Pollpeter said the LCCD board of directors has been following the recommendations of that SHIPO report to the letter and doesn’t plan on wavering from it’s recommendations,.
The property had three barns two on the north side of the property near Houghton and one on the south side. Pollpeter said the recommendations were to return the northside of the farm to original natural prairie, while the south side has a barn that is recommended to be preserved. Two other barns on the north side, and a playground the Dennings put in are being phased out.
“From day 1 it was always the intention of the state, and the conservation district to turn that area into a wildlife area,” Pollpeter said.
“We never wavered from that. We did our homework. We had the state historic preservation commission due extensive studies on the property. They were so thorough even the chicken coop was in that study.
“This is a clash of passions. They want barn and property restoration and we’ve always planned for wildlife restoration. If Eleanor had wanted that property restored, she shouldn’t have left it to the DNR.”
Pollpeter said the board, as well as the DNR, are excited for the project because it will be restoring the area the original natural state it was when settlers first came to this area.
But Phil Pietz said there is money available to restore the barns and keep the historical significance.
“They are proposing to tear down barns and we didn’t know that,” Peitz said. “They said they were going to tear out the playground when said time comes. We’re a little upset by this because our kids played at the playground.”
Peitz said his investigation into the matter revealed the several supervisors and members of the conservation board weren’t completely aware of the plans.
“We feel there’s some heritage aspect to these, if not historical,” he said. “Some of those barns have been there for 80 years and one has been there closer to 150 years.”
Peitz said the Denning farm was one of the first two ever get a century farm award from the state.
He also said his research has shown that Eleanor Denning spent $90,000 of personal money to put in the playground for kids, and the conservation district has no plans to save it.
Pollpeter said the playground, also a recommendation from the DNR, will be kept on the property until it is no longer viable and then will be removed.
Phil’s wife Melissa said she looked back at past LCCB agendas and found discussion of the property in December of 2021 and in May and June where abatement contracts were being approved for removal of asbestos in the home on the property.
“So there was nothing mentioned as far as I see from a public perspective prior to Dec. 1 with regard to the demotion projects and bids,” she said.
Lee County Supervisor Matt Pflug said the issue may warrant additional discussion and investigation.