Bur Oak Land Trust, Washington Co. Conservation partner to protect land

From left: Zach Rozmus, executive director of Washington County Conservation Board, and Jason Taylor, executive director of Bur Oak Land Trust discuss a recent transfer of property from the Trust to the WCCB.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Iowa – Just west of Wellman, more than 100 acres of undeveloped land is changing hands. Bur Oak Land Trust of Iowa City and the Washington County Conservation Board are working together to continue to protect a haven for local wildlife and a place for Iowans to experience nature.

Dotted with mature oak and hickory trees surrounding a lush wetland, the 103-acre Gross property in Lime Creek Township is being transferred from Bur Oak to WCCB to continue its permanent protection.
“Transferring this property to the WCCB will create nearly 900 contiguous acres of protected land, helping to establish an important corridor for wildlife along the English River,” said Bur Oak Land Trust Executive Director Jason Taylor.

The Gross property, donated to Bur Oak in 2018 by Tom Gross and Linda Lee, will join the English River Wildlife Area (ERWA) already managed by WCCB.

“The acquisition of the Gross property is a good thing for Washington County Conservation because it continues a pattern of investment our department and county has made into increasing access to public land,” said Zach Rozmus, Executive Director at WCCB.

Iowa ranks 47th in the United States in terms of total acres protected for public access. This status, Rozmus said, is due in part to Iowa’s agriculture industry, making protection of natural resources and public access “critical.”

“Not every individual has access to private land where they can learn to camp, fish, hike, and hunt which makes it important to have access to public land so that the opportunity to recreate is all-inclusive,” he said.

The continued protection of the Gross property is also important for the wildlife that call the property home. “Countless native species” including the threatened long eared owl will benefit from the property’s unique combination of lowland timber, wetlands, willow thickets and native grasses, Rozmus said. These features also mean the property serves as a flood mitigation area and water quality filtration system, he said, and WCCB’s strict management plan will make the Gross property a place for public recreation for years to come.

Former Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps member Natalie Schoen holds a garter snake she found at the Gross property.

Partnerships like this one between WCCB and Bur Oak are important, he continued, because the work of protecting and preserving natural resources alone would be a nearly impossible task.

“The Bur Oak Land Trust has a history of giving back to the public, protecting natural resources, and involving younger generations in those efforts,” he said. “I firmly believe that the Gross family addition to the ERWA will one day symbolize the beginning of a relationship between two organizations with common goals, that resulted in hundreds of acres being preserved, as well as an involvement with the public, that both entities will be proud to be a part of.”

About Bur Oak Land Trust: For more than 40 years, Bur Oak Land Trust has been advancing biodiversity in Eastern Iowa by protecting resilient landscapes and connecting people to them. Bur Oak protects nearly 900 acres of land through fee-owned properties and conservation easements, and manages critical habitat on 500 of those acres through its conservation-focused AmeriCorps program. To learn more, visit buroaklandtrust.org.
About the Washington County Conservation Board: The Washington County Conservation Board was voted into existence in 1964. In the beginning the workload was small but now our department manages 18 recreation areas that amount to more than 2400 acres. One of the largest of those recreation areas being the English River Wildlife Area. Our goal as an organization is to protect, preserve, and educate. We strive to manage our allotted acres as close to a native state as possible while still allowing the public to access, utilize, and appreciate them. Although land management is an intricate part of what we do on a daily basis at conservation, it comes in close second to what is most important, that being education. Our ultimate goal is to protect the environment by educating county residents and visitors, with the goal of providing enough knowledge to usher in the next generation of environmentally minded individuals. If you would like to learn more about our efforts please visit our conservation center located in Marr Park, 2943 Hwy 92 Ainsworth, IA 52201. Or follow Washington County Conservation on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.

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