Working to protect shoreline north of Bedell State Park on East Lake Okoboji

By Steve Weisman

Over the years, residents and visitors have stepped up many times to help protect the waters of the Iowa Great Lakes. From providing financial support to help purchase lands that impact the waters, to being volunteers, to reaching out to others…those of us who love the lakes have worked to protect these waters.

Now, a new project has come up, and a big one it is! This one is called the East Okoboji Shore project and includes 50 acres directly north of Elinor Bedell State Park right on the shores of East Lake Okoboji. The 50 acres contains grassland and mature trees and is bordered by multiple public natural areas. The site contains the last remaining privately owned undeveloped shoreline on the lake, stretching 2,020 feet along the east shore of East Okoboji.

Last fall word spread that this property was going to be sold for development, so the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) worked with the owner to secure an option to purchase the land with the help of generous donations from local protective associations, other organizations and individuals. That provided the seed money, and the INHF has until this Labor Day to raise the remainder of the $8.2 million purchase price.

If INHF is successful in purchasing the land, the nonprofit conservation group plans to continue to own and manage the property while working on restoration of the natural shoreline, prairie, and oak savanna. There will likely be low-impact public use like hiking and birding, but the land will be managed to maintain scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, and protect the water quality of the Great Lakes system. INHF plans to work with Dickinson County Conservation Board to put a conservation easement on the property, so it will be protected forever. Protection of the site will not only ensure the natural scenic beauty of the area, but it will also preserve a natural buffer that helps to slow and clean water before entering the lake.

At this point, INHF is asking for conditional pledges toward the purchase of the East Okoboji Shore project. Pledges will only be collected if the total goal is met. Pledges can be paid over a one- to three-year period. Pledge forms are available for those interested in helping support the project.

According to Abby Terpstra, INHF Director of Philanthropy, the fundraising is moving into high gear. “We’re off to a great start with some very generous pledges but will need to keep up the momentum if we are to meet our Labor Day goal. We want to get pledges secured and get this special place protected forever.”

Terpstra noted this project is greatly needed to help protect East Lake Okoboji. “There is intense development pressure in the Lakes region. We can easily imagine what this property will look like if it is not protected. There are developers interested in it – which could mean high rise units and hundreds more boats on the lake.”

People interested in donating to the project or assisting in fundraising can contact INHF Director of Philanthropy Abby Terpstra at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected][email protected] or by calling (515) 288-1846. People can also reach out to Terry Wilts, secretary of the East Okoboji Lake Improvement Corp at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected][email protected] or call him at (605) 351-3768.

Wilts shared this about the magnitude and potential of the project. “The purchase of this last 50 acre parcel of natural shoreline on East Okoboji Lake is a generational opportunity that those of us that are conservation minded just can’t afford to miss.”

Photos by INHF. Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is raising funds to protect this 50-acre property on the east shore of East Lake Okoboji.