Preservation group to buy 50 acres along East Okoboji Lake

By: - September 7, 2021 1:45 pm

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is buying 50 acres of undeveloped land north of Elinor Bedell State Park. (Photo courtesy of INHF)

The last privately owned stretch of undeveloped land along East Okoboji Lake will become a wildlife sanctuary and low-impact public park after a $8.2 million fundraising effort wrapped up with a day to spare.

The nonprofit Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation will retain ownership of the 50 acres just north of Elinor Bedell State Park, and will work to connect the two areas with trails. The property, sold by businessman Tom Bedell, has just over 2,000 feet of shoreline.

East Okoboji Lake is part of the Iowa Great Lakes, one of Iowa’s biggest tourist attractions. Most of the shoreline along the major lakes is developed with houses, condos, bars, restaurants, resorts and marinas.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is buying a 50-acre undeveloped site along East Okoboji Lake. (Map courtesy of INHF)

The late former congressman Berkley Bedell and his wife, Elinor, donated 80 acres for the state park bearing Elinor’s name. It opened in 1998 and has a campsite, trails, a shelter and a playground.

Tom Bedell once ran the family’s fishing empire based in Spirit Lake. The family later sold the business, which now is Pure Fishing. 

“He was great to work with,” INHF Communications Director Joe Jayjack said. “He allowed us to purchase an option at the end of last summer, when it went up for sale, and gave us a year to do the fundraising and make it possible.”

Both Bedell park and Tom Bedell’s land will be permanently protected as natural areas, Jayjack said. Trails will be the only infrastructure at the new site, he added. “We really want to keep it as wild as possible,” Jayjack said.

90% of money raised in two months

Ninety percent of the money for the land purchase was raised in the two months leading up to the Labor Day deadline. The group finished the campaign the day before the holiday. 

Jayjack said various lake-preservation organizations were among the key backers of a fundraising efforts that drew more than 400 donors. Some donors gave $20; some gave a lot more, he said. 

Jayjack declined to identify major donors before an event to be held next year. He said no decision has been made on whether the area should be named. 

Bird species abound

The group has signed a purchase agreement and expects to take possession by the end of the year. 

The land is populated by many bird species visible from the lake, and is one of the last wildlife corridors between the lake and the state’s Spring Run wetland complex to the east. Eagles and blue herons frequent the area.

INHF plans to restore the woodlands and grasslands on the property, where needed.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.