You sit among the grasses and flowers on the steep slope, with the encompassing blue sky around and above and in places, even below you. Your gaze slides down the graceful multi-textured hillsides, then dances over the treetops huddled in the valleys. Across the flatlands below and beyond the hills, you can sense the Missouri River and Nebraska on the vague horizon. The sun and breeze caress you. Birdsong beckons amid the hush. You are immersed in nature, not focused on yourself, glad to be a small part of a vast and complex wholeness. That’s a sweet moment at Turin Prairie.
It’s time to celebrate the magic of this place, the joy of its permanence and the trust and dogged determination required to protect it. And, to pause to appreciate all the people involved in protecting Turin Prairie. Every member of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation had a hand in this, and nearly 1,000 people reading this magazine gave specifically to protect Turin Prairie.
Turin Prairie’s numbers are impressive: hundreds of acres, $2 million, four years in the making. But Turin Prairie’s story is more about heart than numbers.
“I’m amazed that it happened.” That’s how Tim Sproul, INHF Loess Hills land conservation consultant, summed it up. “I kept thinking,‘I don’t see how we’re going to be able to make this work. But we’ve got to try. This is really, really, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We cannot give up on it.’”
This project began with a fairly simple inquiry from Virginia Mathison, who wanted the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to add her 80 acres to the adjoining Turin Preserve Wildlife Management Area. The Iowa DNR asked INHF to purchase and hold the land while they secured funds.
Then there was a surprising leap in scope. Virginia’s neighbors, Ron and Connie Christiansen, offered to sell their 345 acres that lay both north and south of the Mathison addition, for the same purpose. Their land was especially rich in high-quality prairie.
It would take nearly $2 million to protect all this land together—and access to major financing for this to work. It would take nimbleness and flexibility to be able to serve the landowners’ needs in a timely way. It would take vision, excitement and experience to pull the people and resources together for success. And, it would take boldness for the INHF board, staff and the Iowa DNR to commit to this project.
What’s it like to face such a challenging opportunity? INHF board member Travis Young, who chaired the INHF board when this project began explained: “Our board knows how to approach measured risks. Sure, there were unknowns. But our entire board realized it had to be done, and that INHF plays a role that nobody else can. This is what we’re here to do. Pursuing big projects like this is not easy, but we’re grateful to be able to try. Few organizations even have the opportunity to protect places of this scope.
When the goals are big, we like to get the call. We like to talk with the agency, the nonprofit, the landowner who’s thinking big, to see if we’re the people they’d like to work with.”
“Besides, our members trust INHF to take those calculated risks when we need to. Even if a member never steps foot on these places, they know their money is used in good and bold ways. The foundation has done that for decades.
Big commitments require trust, relationships and experience. People have to count on each other when they take on big-scale projects like Turin Prairie.
INHF and the Iowa DNR counted on one another to bring funding, project management and leadership to Turin Prairie. Based on years of successful partnerships, INHF trusted that the Iowa DNR could secure most of the funding needed from a variety of public sources over several years. INHF committed to raising $200,000 from private sources.
INHF trusted our members would help. We know we have members who like to help protect Iowa’ s great places. Every now and then, INHF brings an especially inspiring and challenging project to the attention of its members. Some love to give to a specific place and feel the joy of its protection. More than 10 percent of members gave to Turin Prairie in addition to their membership support. INHF also shared this opportunity beyond its membership, which motivated nearly 600 new people to support the foundation’ s work.
Donors trusted INHF and the Iowa DNR to complete a land project of this scope and ensure continued stewardship for the prairie.
The late Mildred Acklin of Sioux City played an important role in this project even beyond her lifetime. Millie trusted INHF with her legacy for Loess Hills protection. Her bequest provided matching funds that encouraged donors to give generously to this project.
INHF’ s long-time members can be proud, too, that their support has given INHF the stability and experience to build relationships of trust. Only with that bedrock of loyal support has INHF been able to gain the capacity to take on ever-more-challenging projects. Now, all these people can celebrate our mutual achievement in protecting Turin Prairie. It’ s amazing just to think there are still places like this in Iowa! It’ s an honor to protect them together.
- Monona County
- Land: 467 acres added to the Turin Preserve Wildlife Management Area—creating a 1,200-acre block of protected wildlife habitat
- Special features: Loess Hills ridges with over 200 acres of high quality native prairies, plus valleys of mixed bur oak woodlands and oak savanna
- Partners: INHF, Iowa DNR, and 937 donors, with special thanks to Loess Hills Alliance and Helen A. Ringgenberg
A Celebration of Turin Prairie
Saturday, September 24: A Celebration of Turin Prairie will welcome everyone to experience parts of this vast place. Enjoy guided hikes and opportunities for varied interests and abilities, plus a dedication ceremony. INHF staff and board look forward to celebrating with our members. Please come! Watch for more information this summer.
What’s so special about Turin Prairie?
It’s vast. Photos simply can’t capture it. There’s way more land than you can see from any spot and more than you can explore in a day. By adding 467 acres to the already expansive Turin Preserve and Wildlife Management Area, there are now more than 1,000 rolling acres of protected prairie, woods and hills. This creates only the fourth public site in Iowa where you can visit an expanse of Loess Hills of this scale.
It’s rare. Prairie once covered most of Iowa. Today, most remaining native prairies are quite small. In the Loess Hills, many prairies are narrow — following the knife-edge tops of ridges. But at the Turin Prairie addition, more than 200 acres of native prairie spread across the hills and valleys in every direction. It’ s a green expanse ablaze with wildflowers that intermingle with bur oaks—as good as you will find in this region. Crop fields are being returned to prairie over time, re-uniting the wholeness of this place.
It’s silent. Just minutes off Interstate 29, a short hour’s drive from Sioux City or Council Bluffs, it’s an amazingly quiet place; you’ll hear no mechanical noise. The silence becomes a companion. It draws you. Iowans can experience this particular quality of silence only on a large expanse of natural land.
This magical combination helps us imagine how Iowa must have looked and sounded five generations ago. Here, the actions of our members and partners ensure our great-grandchildren will be able to sense their Iowa roots