Blackburn unit

The new Blackburn Wildlife Management Area and Blackburn Unit of Waubonsie State Park.

THURMAN, Iowa — William and Sara Blackburn have donated 151 acres in northwest Fremont County to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

It will be used to create the Blackburn Wildlife Management Area and Blackburn Unit of Waubonsie State Park. The donation from the Long Grove, Illinois, couple is valued at more than $515,000.

William Blackburn traces his family history to southwest Iowa and was looking to buy property in the area when this parcel became available. After the acquisition in 2003, he began working to turn his vision for the property into reality.

The family began hauling away junk and old machinery, and removed about 200 cedar trees and acres of tree of heaven and honeysuckle that were invading the native timber.

They researched what prairie plants would likely have been in the area during settlement and searched for those seeds to include as part of the mix used for a 35-acre prairie restoration.

They improved the oak timber, installed roads, trails and erosion control and developed an open-air picnic shelter and performance pavilion, with an adjoining boardwalk leading to a viewing platform. The family’s investment totaled more than $300,000.

In more recent years, the Blackburn property has become a popular nature preserve for the family and community and a site for weddings, graduation parties and a biennial music festival.

It was Blackburn’s wish that everyone could enjoy this property that has meant so much to generations of his family.

“I want them to say, ‘Wow! I had no idea this natural beauty was right here in my backyard! We have to come back!’ I want folks to realize this is something rare enough, enchanting enough to take care of, not just for their own use, but for their children, their children’s children, and all who come after them,” he said.

The 72-acre parcel containing the shelter-pavilion, stone viewing benches and other facilities — roughly the southwest half of the donated grounds — will become the Blackburn Unit of Waubonsie State Park.

“It’s a natural gem that’s been well managed,” said Matt Moles, park manager at Waubonsie State Park, who will manage the park portion of the donation. “It’s definitely a place that people will enjoy.”

Moles said the plan is to continue to maintain the high-quality natural landscape, hiking trails and open-air shelter. A local fundraising effort and assistance from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation allowed the park to receive a new pit latrine prior to ownership being transferred. The area does not currently have water or campsites.

The 79-acre undeveloped parcel to the northeast will become the Blackburn Wildlife Management Area and be managed by the Nishnabotna Wildlife Unit.

“This is a really nice piece of Loess Hills timber with high quality prairie reconstruction on the edges,” said Matt Dollison, wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR who will be managing the new wildlife area.

The location is important as the Blackburn parcel links a newly acquired 200-acre Wiedel tract to its north and west with the 350-acre Green Hollow Wildlife Area. This resulting 700-acre wildlife area and park will abound with turkey, deer and a wide variety of birds, along with other wildlife.

More than a dozen threatened or endangered species have been documented on the two areas. “That’s a big deal,” Moles said. “This is some of the best, most-cared-for prairie that I’ve ever seen.’’

The INHF played an important role in helping this donation happen.

“For years we’ve helped Bill explore ways that this special place could be permanently protected, so it is exciting to see this happen,” said INHF Vice President Anita O’Gara.

Valentine specials

Couples and families can take advantage of several special Valentine’s Day offers, including reduced lodging, at Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area and Eugene T. Mahoney, Ponca and Platte River State Parks.

For more information, visit or call individual parks. A park entry permit is required.

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