Two Iowa conservation organizations have joined forces to create a future public natural area just south of Council Bluffs adjacent to U.S. Highway 275.
The 506-acre site is currently owned by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and The Nature Conservancy in Iowa. Once fundraising is complete, the site will be transferred to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for ownership, management and public use.
Located at 50227 221st St., the site, currently called Green Hill Ranch, contains classic Loess Hills topography — peak-and-saddle cascading hills, oak savanna and pockets of remnant prairie — along with views toward downtown Omaha.
In June 2017, The Nature Conservancy and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation jointly purchased the property. The two organizations are seeking grant funding and private donations to help complete the $3 million project. Nearly 2/3 of that total has been raised through pledges or grants from the following organizations:
- The Iowa West Foundation
- MidAmerican Energy Foundation
- Resources Enhancement and Protections (REAP) program
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources
- Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act
- Loess Hill Missouri River Parks to People (Iowa Parks Foundation)
- Iowa Department of Transportation (pending)
“The Loess Hills has tremendous potential,” said Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Of the first-ever partnership with The Nature Conservancy in Iowa, he added, “We decided this area is so important we had to make this happen.”
“There is a big demand for more natural land near Council Bluffs,” said Kristin Aschenbrenner, state director for The Nature Conservancy’s Iowa program.
McGovern said that once fundraising is complete, the property will be an escape from the city and a haven for birdwatchers, hunters and hikers.
Split between Pottawattamie and Mills counties, the property follows the Loess Hills Scenic Byway for nearly two miles.
It’s an area that McGovern said is familiar to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation for protection. Across the road is The Nature Conservancy’s Folsom Point Preserve, which protects one of the largest remaining contiguous prairie remnants in the southern Loess Hills. Together, Green Hills Ranch and Folsom Point protect nearly 800 acres of natural land and wildlife habitat.
With the Iowa DNR taking the lead, Pottawattamie and Mills county conservation boards will also take on active roles in the restoration of Green Hills Ranch. Matt Dollison, Nishnabotna Wildlife Unit Biologist for the Iowa DNR, will oversee the restoration work.
“You come off the highway and you don’t even see half the property. You climb up, and there’s an oak-lined ridge top. From there you can see Folsom Point and beyond Folsom Point, the skyscraper of Omaha,” said Graham McGaffin, Loess Hills project director for The Nature Conservancy. “You feel miles away from the highway and the metro.”