Government

Fayette County gets $490K state grant to buy land for public use

But Linn County Learning Farm among projects not getting REAP grants

Jim Beeghly of Decorah climbs a hill April 18 to an observation tower along a recreation trail that runs through his land near Fayette. Jim and his wife, Nina, no longer live on the land and would like to sell the property to Fayette County Conservation so the entire site can be enjoyed by the public. Last week, the county was awarded a grant to purchase the land. (The Gazette)
Jim Beeghly of Decorah climbs a hill April 18 to an observation tower along a recreation trail that runs through his land near Fayette. Jim and his wife, Nina, no longer live on the land and would like to sell the property to Fayette County Conservation so the entire site can be enjoyed by the public. Last week, the county was awarded a grant to purchase the land. (The Gazette)

Northeastern Iowa’s Fayette County will get a $490,000 grant to purchase 134 acres of undulating hills, oak savanna and wetlands for public recreation and education as part of the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program.

The purchase was one of four projects to share just over $1 million in state funds for REAP county projects, approved last week by the state’s Natural Resource Commission.

“We’re glad it went through,” said Jim Beeghly, who, along with his wife, Nina, are selling their Fayette County farm to the county at a reduced cost so the land can be kept in its natural state for public use. “We’re very fond of our prairie. We didn’t want to let that go back into row crop production.”

Among requests not funded was $400,000 for Linn County to acquire land for a new Linn Learning Farm focusing on conservation and agricultural land practices. This project northwest of Palo would involve restoring the only known prairie pothole wetlands in Linn County.

Land for public use

The Beeghlys bought their Fayette County farm in the early 2000s.

The retirees have spent more than $25,000 returning the land to its natural state by removing undergrowth and seeding native prairie plants, planting trees and shrubs and building five wetlands that now host animals including Canada geese, ducks, leopard frogs, chorus frogs and egrets.

The wetlands filter water from the neighbors’ corn and soybean fields and help control flooding, Jim Beeghly said.

The farm also includes a 2.5-mile paved trail that can take cyclists, runners and walkers from the city of Fayette to the banks of the Volga River. The couple granted an easement for the trail and for a lookout tower on the site’s high point.

The Beeghlys were among more than 300 people who in March went to the Iowa Statehouse to protest a bill raised in the Iowa House that would have prevented public agencies from buying land or accepting donated land unless a donor paid for upkeep. That bill, which was not advanced, also would have ended a popular tax credit for land donations.

Iowa lawmakers did, however, pass a bill that makes it harder for private groups to use the state revolving fund to finance the purchase of land that would later be sold to a government agency, such as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources or a county conservation board.

Using the fund, groups like the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation could act quickly to purchase land desired for conservation and then sell it later to a government agency that wants it but wasn’t as agile.

Because the Beeghlys could wait for REAP funding, they are able to sell directly to the county instead of to a nonprofit.

Not enough money

But money under REAP is limited.

“Jim’s project scored very, very high and that’s great,” said Rod Marlatt, Fayette County Conservation executive director. But only four of 18 county projects got REAP funding. “I didn’t see any bad projects. It’s just that there’s only so much money available.”

The other approved projects are:

• Louisa County will get $166,400 to purchase a 40-acre native prairie.

• Madison County will get $275,300 to help develop interactive exhibits for a new conservation center.

• Story County will get $73,576 to restore 55 acres along the South Skunk River near Story City.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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