Prairiewoods signs conservation easement to protect 70 acres of land


Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha signed an agreement Friday that will protect 70 acres of woods and prairie from future development.

Prairiewoods, which is sponsored by the Catholic community Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, serves as an ecospiritual retreat and conference center and hosts regular community events. The property sits on 70 acres that include two and a half miles of walking trails, which are open to the public, and 40 acres of restored native prairie.


“We believe our spirituality is enhanced and enriched by our contact with the natural world and the rest of creation,” said Sister Betty Daugherty, who is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. “We connect ecology and care of the earth with our spirituality. That’s a Franciscan concept, that nature is the first world of God. We want to protect that for the future.”

Daugherty said that is why they started working with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Under a conservation easement, the land will be legally protected against development in perpetuity. If the land is ever sold, the new owner will be bound by the terms of the easement. The easement also includes a caveat that Prairiewoods itself cannot develop additional buildings outside of an area close to existing structures.


The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit organization that has worked with landowners and public agencies to protect more than 170,000 acres of Iowa’s land through efforts like conservation easements.

Property owners who sign an easement choose a conservation agency or nonprofit to hold and monitor the easement; the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is such an agency.


“If we would happen to sell this land, the terms of the easement would have to be kept, always. It will always be legally protected,” Daugherty said.

She said the community also is thinking about the good of future generations.

“It’s important in fighting against a rising climate crisis,” she said.

Prairiewoods started in 1962, when the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of La Crosse, Wis., purchased the land as a possible site for administrative offices for a new province — provinces are geographic regions of the Franciscan faith. The province was never developed, and in 1994 the land was transitioned into the community space it is today.


In addition to the wood, prairie and walking trails, Prairiewoods includes a main building for meetings and events, a guesthouse and hermitages cottages in the woods, an outdoor labyrinth and gardens. The center hosts regular programming like yoga and meditation, faith discussions and more, as well as larger events like an annual Spirituality in the 21st Century conference.

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