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Saving more of the grove

Bur Oak Land Trust launches capital campaign to purchase more Big Grove timber
Bur Oak Land Trust board members stop with a group of Lakeview Elementary second graders to talk about the different types of trees during a tour of the trails in the in the Big Grove Preserve April 20. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– Imagine you’re in the heart of Iowa City on a busy day– cars, people and concrete.
Now think about being 7 miles away, standing in the middle of the Bur Oak Land Trust’s Big Grove Preserve, a centuries-old forest populated with tall hardwoods– calm and quiet, broken only by the occasional songbird.
Johnson County is one of the fastest-growing areas of the state, but preserving some of its natural woodlands from residential development is a battle that continues for the Bur Oak Land Trust, which announced, last week, the public phase of a new capital campaign to double the size of the Big Grove Preserve off Sugar Bottom Road southwest of Solon.
The Trust seeks to raise a total of $700,000 to purchase a 40-acre Big Grove addition, and celebrated raising $420,488.87, to date, with a tree planting ceremony at the Big Grove site Wednesday, April 20.
Second graders from Lakeview Elementary were given guided tours on the existing preserve’s trails after which they assisted with the planting of a bur oak tree.
Of the $700,000 goal, $360,000 will go toward purchasing 40 acres of adjacent land, and the remaining $340,000 will support the continued stewardship and active conservation of the Big Grove addition and other trust properties, according to a release accompanying the event.
Bur Oak Land Trust (formerly Johnson County Heritage Trust) maintains and preserves nine local natural areas for the enjoyment and education of the public, and holds 14 conservation easements.
“We are an organization that not only focuses on preserving the land, but actively conserving the habitats of hundreds of plants, trees, flowers, birds and other animals native to the property,” said Carter Johnson, president of the trust’s board of directors. “We are very excited that children are here with us today to celebrate by planting a bur oak tree. They are taking the first steps in continuing our legacy for land conservation for future generations.”
Lakeview’s second graders surrounded the tree and were asked to share what they learned on their nature hike, according to Lori Blackburn, friend of the Bur Oak Land Trust.
“They were quizzed on the state bird, state flower, state rock and state tree– to a loud cheer of Oak!” Blackburn said. Students also learned about the internal plumbing of the tree and were shown, by Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Forester Mark Vitosh, how to properly dig, plant, mulch, water and care for the tree before digging in to help, she added.
The Bur Oak Land Trust accepts donations of land from residents and landowners who want their natural areas to be in the public trust, available for present and future generations, according to the trust’s website.
The trust arranges and holds conservation easements, facilitates transfers of land from private to public ownership, and advises land owners on donations, sale, and preservation of their land.
Purchasing and conserving the Big Grove addition will do more than just prevent it from becoming developed land, according to the trust’s release. It will protect biodiversity from invasive species and educate the next generation about the importance of wild spaces and natural habitats.
Big Grove also represents an important reminder of what Iowa looked like before it was settled, observed Bur Oak Land Trust board treasurer Dick Schwab.
As people moved west of the Mississippi River, they traveled Iowa’s rivers to explore the land, and settled where there was ample water, timber and stone to quarry, Schwab said.
“Those towns that had those three resources readily available grew rapidly,” Schwab said. “The disadvantage for the Big Grove was we cut it all down.”
Deep woodland birds need large tracts of contiguous timber to survive and thrive, Schwab said.
The goal of the Big Grove Preserve, in concert with other entities, he said, is to link together large, undeveloped areas of forest to provide habitat for the area’s natural flora and fauna.
The Big Grove Preserve is adjacent to land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he noted.
The Bur Oak Land Trust cooperates with other groups which promote and preserve natural areas, including the Johnson County Conservation Board, the Community Foundation of Johnson County, the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department, the Iowa Nature Conservancy, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and the Iowa Environmental Council.
The trust is a member of the national Land Trust Alliance and accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.
The Conserve. Protect. Grow. Capital Campaign is co-chaired by Schwab and Liz Maas, with David Bluder and Connie Mutel serving as honorary chairs. Other campaign steering committee members include Don Bolin, David Dierks, Ben Dillon, Mark Madsen, Maureen Marron, Jane McCune, Steve Schomberg and Larry Weber.
The 40-acre Big Grove addition, located at 3999 Starry Night Lane NE, Solon, was purchased by the trust last year on contract from Jim and Helen Crosheck and George and Gina Crosheck, with payments made from the funds raised in the campaign.
“We are extremely grateful to Don and Liz Bolin and the board of directors for stepping forward as lead donors and helping make this land purchase and stewardship possible,” said Schwab. “Their generous gifts will help Bur Oak Land Trust actively conserve the integrity of this property for generations to come.”
Schwab said the Conserve. Protect. Grow. Capital Campaign would continue until the additional $279,500 targeted by the group is raised.
“The more money we can raise, the more we can do to protect not only this property, but also other land in and around Johnson County,” said Tammy Wright, Bur Oak Land Trust executive director, who added there are many ways to contribute to the campaign.
“No gift is too small,” Wright said, adding gifts may be made in cash or securities, pledges up to three years and in stocks, and are tax-deductible. For more information about Bur Oak Land Trust or the Conserve. Protect. Grow. campaign, please call 319-338-7030 or visit www.BurOakLandTrust.org.