Agriculture

History-rich lands to be preserved in Indian Creek Nature Center donation

192 acres worth $1 million make the largest land donation ever to the center

LAFAYETTE — Once 85-year-old George Etzel figured he "couldn’t take it with" him, he did the next best thing: He donated 192 acres of history-rich timber, pasture, farmland and farmstead buildings to the Indian Creek Nature Center.

Etzel said he and other family members “wanted this to remain as it was when grandpa was around.”

Each of the three tracts “has something unique about it, and we wanted to keep development off them,” said Etzel, who like his father before him was born in a bedroom on the Etzel Sugar Grove Farm a mile south of this Linn County hamlet.

Those unique features range from remnants of one of the county’s first mills and an early stagecoach road to spring-fed pastures and stands of mature hardwoods. The history of agriculture in Iowa is on display in the Sugar Grove Farm’s well-preserved buildings and their museum-like contents.

That farm, Etzel said, was settled in 1849 and has been in his family since 1888 when his grandfather bought it.

The bequest, valued at more than $1 million, is the largest land gift in the Indian Creek Nature Center’s 43-year history, its executive director, John Myers, said.

“We’re grateful for George’s vision and his family’s generosity,” said Tom Hughes, president of the nature center’s board of directors.

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The gift, Hughes said, provides almost unlimited potential to expand upon the center’s two main missions — protection of the land and education about its sustainable use.

Etzel said his family decided to donate the land to the nature center because of its track record for land protection and fiscal responsibility.

The gift consists of three land tracts — each near the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Linn County.

The Etzel Sugar Grove Farm includes farmland, pasture and a maple grove where the nature center will harvest sap to increase its annual maple syrup production. Throughout the pasture and woodlands, natural springs water century-old trees, and the remnants of an old stage coach road can still be seen on the property.

The Lafayette Mill property, listed on the National Historic Registry, includes remnants of one of the first saw and grain mills in Linn County, originally powered by Otter Creek, which flows year-round through these grounds.

The George Etzel Timber consists of 39 acres of woodlands providing prime habitat for deer, turkey and fox.

“Keeping this land natural will continue to support the ecological health of the property and surrounding land,” Myers said.

The three properties eventually will be open to the public, but restoration and preservation come first, according to Myers.

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“We will maintain a strong educational focus with an emphasis on showcasing community-supported agriculture,” he said.

The Etzel family has also established the “Etzel Sugar Grove Farm Endowed Fund” at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, with distributions to pay for the property’s ongoing expenses.

This donation brings Indian Creek Nature Center’s total land ownership and management to 482 acres, all in Eastern Iowa.

The non-profit Nature Center says it promotes sustainability though environmental education and champions land protection and responsible interaction with nature.

l Comments: (319) 934-3172; orlan.love@thegazette.com

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