To enjoy the outdoors, you need an outdoor place to enjoy. The Bur Oak Land Trust is a nonprofit that’s working to ensure that natural areas in and around Johnson County stay that way for future generations.
“It's the right thing to do,” says Bur Oak executive director Tammy Wright. “If we don't protect these areas how will future generations learn about nature and the natural world? Where will they get dirty and catch bugs and frogs; chase butterflies; pick flowers, and do the things that most of us did when we were younger?
“Children of all ages need to be able to get outside to combat the Nature Deficit Disorder that is plaguing our country,” she says.
The trust’s mission is to “protect and conserve” natural areas. In practice, that’s meant working with residents and landowners who have donated their property to be put in a public trust to be available for future generations.
Ironically the trust was started because of a lost opportunity at preservation. In 1978, the owner of some land near Hickory Hill Park offered to sell the property to the city to be added to the park. But the city couldn’t put the deal together in time, the land was sold to a developer.
The Johnson County Heritage Trust, which eventually changed its name to Bur Oak, was created to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.
In addition to acquiring and maintaining properties, the Bur Oak Land Trust works with other groups that promote and preserve natural areas, including theJohnson County Conservation Board, theJohnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, theIowa City Parks and Recreation Department, theIowa Nature Conservancy, theIowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and theIowa Environmental Council.
Bur Oak now manages eight major properties, ranging from the one-acre Strub Prairie, along an abandoned railroad right-of-way, to the 107-acre Turkey Creek Preserve, which includes woods, former pasture land, and five acres of reconstructed prairie.
“This is important for Johnson and the surrounding counties because of the agriculture lands and the increased development pressures of a growing population,” says Wright. “It's important for all areas to have outdoor recreation that isn't just asphalt. We need to learn about the circle of life and how we are all dependent on each other, not just people, but even the smallest of creatures.”
For those interested in getting involved Wright suggests that there are many volunteer opportunities, from working on a committee to helping on the actual properties.
“We own eight properties that are open to the public and hold conservation easements on 13 others totaling over 560 acres,” says Wright. “There are many opportunities to contribute.”