Officials from Pheasants Forever, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation joined members of the public for a special dedication ceremony on Friday, Aug. 24, for a tract of land that will be opened on Sept. 1 for public recreation usage near 2454 185th Ave., in Percival, Iowa. Jake Holt, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist gave a welcome to those in attendance for the event and gave introductions of speakers at the program.
Mike Heng, owner the dedicated land and land adjacent to the newly dedicated public land, was on hand for the event.
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation purchased the land for the purpose of including it in the 3421-acre Copeland Bend Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to provide further outdoor opportunities for individuals to hunt, hike, fish or explore the terrain of Fremont County. With the latest addition, Fremont County now supports 15,858 acres of publicly accessible land and is quickly becoming a hunting destination for residents and non-residents.
Jamie Cook, Iowa state coordinator for Pheasants Forever, was first to speak at the dedication.
“Right out of the gate, we can’t do this without great partners and great partnerships,” said Cook. “I think we’ve got a great group represented here today.
“In our opinion that this initiative is about the local communities allowing and providing opportunities for hunters to come and spend dollars locally.”
Cook said those who come to hunt in the area are likely to spend money on such things as hotel stays, gas, food and more.
“To kind of rob an Iowa saying that made Hollywood in the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they’ll come,” Cook said. “The idea with public access is that when we build it, hunters will show up and drive those dollars into local economies.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the DNR (Department of Natural Resources), the NCRS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and its (Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program) that allows folks and landowners to benefit from creating quality habitat and then being able to open that up for public access.
Cook thanked the Fremont County Tourism Board, represented at Friday’s dedication by Ruth Paper, for making grant money available for this project. He also thanked Iowa West Foundation for grant funds.
“Here locally, we are excited about this particular tract,” Cook said.
Next to speak on the topic was Brian Hickman, private lands coordinator for the Iowa DNR.
Hickman said that, back in 2010, the state of Iowa realized that problems existed with wildlife habitat and with opportunities to allow for public engagement in outdoor activities, paticularly hunting. Hickman said the DNR took action to correct that problem.
“We applied for a grant through the farm bill and we were awarded money to implement a program,” Hickman said.
The first public access properties were then opened in 2012 with those accounting for 1,000 acres. That has grown, through another grant opportunity and due to a partnership with Pheasants Forever and now includes 23,000 acres on 162 unique sites.
“We are starting to put a dent in that access issue,” said Hickman. “We still have a long way to go, but this is a great first step.”
What does the program mean in numbers. The DNR voluntary survey of public access users indicate that 99 percent of those who used public lands for hunting promised to return, that the hunters traveled an average of 76 miles and that each hunter averaged spending $71 per trip.
Hickman said that the DNR numbers are trending up each year.
“We know that our hunters like it because they get access and they get quality habitat,” said Hickman.
Hickman said the landowners receive incentives and reported that 95 percent of the landowners are pleased to have taken part in the program and almost all would recommend it to others.
Ross Baxter with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation said his organization’s interest in projects like the public land access program are in line with the organizational mission to protect and restore Iowa’s land, water and wildlife.
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation’s role is to act as a go-between with landowners who are willing to sell and with government agencies, like the DNR. Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation purchases land and holds that land until the funds are available for government purchase.
In this case, the land is being donated to the access program while maintaining private ownership.
Baxter said that fact is something for which to be proud.
Matt Dollison of the Iowa DNR spoke specifically about the tract of land being opened to public access.
Dollison said the land in the Copeland Bend WMA once belonged to the Army Corps of Engineers and was purchased with funds given to mitigate the loss of wildlife habitat pursuant to the channelization of the Missouri River.
All included, Dollison said that Fremont County rated third in the state for public wildlife management areas. And, Dollison said, that fact impacts the local economy.
“It’s definitely got to be a huge economic booster for Fremont County,” Dollison said, adding that it could have an even larger impact as people become more aware through marketing and exposure efforts.
Dollison said Fremont County features the premier waterfowl marsh in the state at Riverton, has great waterfowl areas along the Missouri River, has great woodland habitat and prairies for hunting deer and turkey in the Loess Hills and also has good upland resources for pheasant and quail.
“The diversity down here in Fremont County and the amount of habitat and acres we have available is really unique and is really a gem. And I am excited that this program is going to add to that even more.”