Natural Resource Commissioner recommends amending playground plans
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County Conservation officials are moving forward with plans at the Denning Conservation property in western Lee County.
Officials are removing several structures on the property as well as converting some of the property located 1.5 miles south of Houghton, donated by the family of Eleanor Denning to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The Lee County Conservation District manages the property for the state.
According to a release Friday from LCCD Director Heather Huebner, state officials are recommending that the LCCD move forward with plans that were created between 2019 and 2021 for the property.
Huebner said she received a letter from the state DNR Natural Resources Commission that authorized the county to move forward with current plans.
Tammi Kircher, an NRC commissioner from Keokuk wrote in the letter that the Department of Natural Resources officials agree with the county’s five-year plan for the property.
“After discussing with Director Huebner, many of the conversation board members, the DNR Wildlife Bureau Chief, Todd Bishop, and other DNR staff, it is a consensus that the five-year plan proposed for the north side of the Denning property continue. It is worth noting that the Iowa State Historical Society was asked to evaluate the property for historical consideration, of which their report indicated it not being eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (opposite their finding on the barn located on the south side of the road),” Kircher wrote.
“Therefore, the barns on the north side will be taken down and hopefully repurposed. With the same passion that came into the conservation board meeting on February 7th, I hope you continue to look for grants and other income sources that will allow these barns – or at least the oldest barn – to be taken down in a respectful manner and rebuilt on other conservation property for the many uses that were mentioned at the meeting.”
Huebner said per contracts already in place the demotion will work begin again immediately. The LCCD put a hold on the work after a February board meeting where several area property owners advocated for the preservation of the property.
The county also uncovered a trust fund the Denning had set aside for maintenance of the playground currently on the property. No one associated with the board or the DNR was aware of that trust at the end of 2021 and the Conservation board is investigating the trust.
Kircher wrote that plans for the playground should be amended to include plans for retaining the playground.
“Regarding the playground, the same (state) individuals involved in the conversation did feel that the language in the 28(E) Agreement should be amended or modified to delete verbiage for eliminating the playground. I have suggested language, which has been approved by the Wildlife Bureau and our legal counsel,” Kircher said.
Huebner said the Conservation Board will review the suggested edits and could act at a future board meeting.
Over the past three years plans were created and implemented in conjunction with the Wildlife Division of the Iowa DNR for the property. Iowa State Historical Society (SHPO) conducted surveys, archeological digs, etc. to review the property.
At a December 2021 board meeting, after an extensive review of the Denning property was conducted, utilizing the Iowa State Historical Society (SHPO) surveys and reports, the board voted unanimously to remove all buildings from the north side of the property.
Hueber said the board is willing to hear ideas on what to do with the deconstructed barns on the north side of the property, but they cannot keep them at that location.
The full letter from the Natural Resource Commission can be found on the Lee County Conservation Website.
“The LCCB appreciates citizens’ patience as we work with the Natural Resource Commission on how to move forward with this project. The Board also sincerely thanks everyone that has participated, researched, and advocated for the conservation and preservation of the Denning Property for their time, passion, and professionalism in dealings with the Board,” Huebner said.