Posted by: Conservation
Come out to Hitchcock Nature Center on April 24th and become a litter buster! Celebrate Earth Day by being a part of the solution and help clean up the park during this free event from 9 am-1 pm. Volunteers will get into the park free of admission, receive some fun prizes, and have a chance to win a one-night cabin stay!
This event’s namesake stems from Hitchcock’s turbulent and contentious past. Hitchcock’s story starts innocently enough as a YMCA camp from 1967-1986. In the fall of 1986, the YMCA decided to sell the property. Although Pottawattamie Conservation (PC) and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) submitted a bid, they were out-bid by a Boston-based investor, Mike Angel. However, the PC and INHF were able to lease the property with a contract that lasted two years after the time of sale.
Mr. Angel called the area "stunning" and talked about creating a nature preserve and retreat facility. But his talk was cheap, and his plans for a “nature preserve and retreat facility” soon turned into plans for a bottled water factory. Luckily, due to the lease with Pottawattamie Conservation and INHF, he was not able to follow through with his plans, and the area enjoyed a short respite.
This is where the story takes a harrowing turn: In June of 1989, Mr. Angel filed a permit to turn 523 acres into a landfill. His rationale was that Pottawattamie County did not have a landfill of its own and had to pay others to take it, resulting in a lot of illegal dumping. Although this was and still is true, what he did not understand was that the Loess Hills are highly erodible and unique to only two places in the world, Western Iowa and along the Yellow River in China.
As local concern for the planned landfill rose, around 160 residents gathered to form the “Dump Busters”, a grassroots organization to stop the landfill. Their concerns ranged from road damage done by dump trucks to pollution seeping into the permeable loess soil and the overall threat to the local plant and animal wildlife. The group quickly grew to over 1,800 people who raised funds for legal fees to fight the proposed landfill. Most importantly, they showed up at meetings and hearings and overwhelmed the spaces with their sheer numbers. This continued over the course of a year. Before an official decision was made, a frustrated Mr. Angel cleared 40 acres in the middle of the park, making some quick money off of tree sales. The effects of his bulldozing cut out the wide trails and cleared out all vegetation in the valley behind the lodge, leading the bulldozer-scarred trail to eventually be named “Angel’s Dead End". The Dump Busters showed up at the last zoning commission meeting and testified against the landfill. In the end, the zoning commission voted 4-3 against the landfill.
If it hadn’t been for the efforts of the Dump Busters, Hitchcock Nature Center would be a dump. Mike Angel could not keep up with his financial endeavors and the property went into foreclosure. Within two years, with help from the IHNF and the Resources Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, Pottawattamie Conservation was able to purchase the land for the public’s enjoyment.
So, let’s keep Hitchcock Nature Center from looking like a dump! Please come help us bust some litter on April 24th from 9 am-1 pm.