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Whiterock Conservancy: An Iowa Phenomenon!

Aldo Leopold stated that “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering. “

Growing up on a small farm in southern Minnesota, I recall that I spent a lot of time wondering if I had been born too late. I often tried to imagine what things were like when the area now called Blue Earth County was untouched by human impact. Finding an arrowhead in a plowed field, hearing a story about tiled land that used to full of waterfowl or a fence row hedge, now removed, that was a perfect habitat for pheasants made me wonder about missed magnificence. A photo that sticks in my mind was from our local newspaper. Like most local papers, they published old articles or photos from 25, 50 or 100 years ago. This particular photo was of a small group of men with shotguns. Next to these men, the picture showed a large pile of dead crows with the proud hunters standing around it. The crows were piled up like ear corn that had been dumped out of a wagon. The pile was about 6 feet high…a mound of dead crows that had been proudly collected and piled for all to see. Of course, this was done for a reason. The

crows it seemed were too numerous to tolerate and were raiding farmers’ crops and cornfields and affecting livelihoods. So many crows in one place either dead or alive is something that I have never seen with my own eyes. Perhaps I have seen 20 or 30 gathered together (a flock of crows is called a murder). Just imagine at the turn of the century hunters could hunt, kill and pile crows into a small hill. This must mean for us today that some of the cogs and wheels have been tinkered with and not for the better, at least for the crows.

After 30 years of working in international development, I came to Iowa three years ago to become the executive director of Whiterock Conservancy. I took the job in part because of my admiration for the Leopold Center which I had been following throughout my career. I knew Fred Kirschenmann through his environmental advocacy work. Fred happened to be on the board of directors for Whiterock Conservancy. I thought certainly if Fred and the Leopold Center are involved with Whiterock Conservancy, it must be a great place to work. I also thought that perhaps Whiterock will provide a place to be able to think about what we as human beings are doing correctly and incorrectly when it comes to nature and our environment. I also admired the research supported by the Leopold Center, especially hat research that helps us to realize that we might not have all the answers yet and that try as we might, nature is hard to beat!

Whiterock Conservancy provides a place where one can consider the roles humans play in intelligent tinkering. It is a 5500 acre not for profit organization founded in 2004 as a result of a generous gift from the Garst family. Whiterock is located near Coon Rapids, Iowa with land in Guthrie, Greene, and Carroll counties. Whiterock is actively managed to improve the condition of the savannas, rolling pastures, native and restored prairies, wetlands, riverside bluffs, and fishing ponds. Whiterock is restoring one of the largest areas of oak savanna left in Iowa. Our diverse habitats are home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and other wildlife. Whiterock also integrates regenerative agriculture and rotational grazing of livestock in its operation. There are 40 miles of trail, 7 miles of river and a variety of campsites and farmhouses available for rent.

Whiterock Conservancy strives to continue the Garst legacy of innovative farming by demonstrating sustainable farming practices and providing farmers and non-farmers information on the benefits and costs of these practices. Visitors to Whiterock can see these practices on the ground and can learn more by requesting a staff-led tour of the property. In order to provide opportunities for the public to experience and learn from this landscape, Whiterock Conservancy maintains a state of the art backcountry soft trail system that serves the needs of walkers, hikers, runners, mountain bikers, equestrians and those with mobility limitations through the use of off-road vehicles. Visitors can get up close to nature, view sustainable agriculture practices and explore the history of the area.

As part of our mission to engage the public in learning about sustainable agriculture and the natural landscape we are proud to steward the historic Garst Farm, the cradle of hybrid seed corn and the host for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during his historic 1959 visit to the United States.

Because of our non-profit registration status, Whiterock has had three “membership organizations” as part of the board of directors since its inception. These three organizations are the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Leopold Center. The Leopold Center, with its goals of promoting cleaner water, conservation of natural resources and greater agricultural vitality, is a natural fit to support Whiterock’s mission of providing a place where people, the environment and agriculture can be sustained and interact. Fred Kirschenmann has been the Leopold Center representative on the Whiterock board of directors since Whiterock was founded in 2004. His guidance and enthusiasm for looking at the future of agriculture differently than conventional agriculture have helped show Whiterock how they can best maintain a robust environment for wildlife, healthy soil and clean water while not removing agriculture or livestock from the land base.

Whiterock Conservancy welcomes all Leopold Center supporters to come and visit Whiterock and enjoy these natural surroundings that we try our best to steward for future generations. We would also welcome

more crows…if they care to stop by.

For more information about Whiterock, visit

Dan Gudahl, Executive Director

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