League Lines: Saving South Dakota's "Good Earth"

Good Earth Dedication Governors Branstad, Daugaard with Dick Brown

South Dakota >> Thirteen became a lucky number for the League’s Sioux Falls Chapter and people throughout South Dakota when the 13th state park was dedicated in July. Nearly 400 people turned out to watch South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad dedicate Good Earth State Park at Blood Run.

Why were there two governors at one park dedication? Good Earth is unique for many reasons, one of which is that it is proposed to be the first state park jointly operated by two states. The park could eventually encompass 3,000 acres on both the Iowa and South Dakota sides of the Big Sioux River.

The park is located just eight miles outside Sioux Falls, the most populated area in South Dakota, and features significant archaeological sites as well as important plant and wildlife communities. The area is the largest known Oneota habitation in North America and was also occupied by several other Native American tribes. Known historically as Blood Run (for the reddish tint of the water due to iron ore), this area was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1970. The area includes private and public lands. However, designation of private property as part of National Historic Landmark does not prohibit development on the property.

As development and mining operations approached the area, state agencies worked with private landowners to acquire key holdings. One such holding was 324 acres owned by Buzz Nelson, who agreed to sell the property so that it could be included in a state park. Nelson’s property included oak forests in their natural state, native prairie, and other rare and native plants. To purchase this land and others adjoining it, the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation led a fundraising effort that involved private citizens, conservation groups, and others interested in protecting these features. The League’s Sioux Falls Chapter donated $50,000 for land purchases.

“You might say this is our biggest conservation project yet!” says Deb Clow, Sioux Falls Chapter newsletter editor and youth programs coordinator. The chapter’s $50,000 donation was used to purchase the last 100 acres of land needed for the state park. What spurred this generous donation? Dick Brown, development director for the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation, gave a presentation on the state park at the South Dakota Division’s annual meeting, and Sioux Falls Chapter members invited him to speak at a chapter event. After hearing about the project, chapter members enthusiastically joined the cause.

“We rent our chapter house for events and have a Wild Game Feed each year, so we have a treasury that can support such a donation,” says Clow. “After some discussion, the chapter decided to become a Preservation Partner. We felt that with our contribution, the land purchase may be completed sooner — which it was. It is a beautiful area, and we wanted to help preserve it for future generations to enjoy.”

“This wonderful and thoughtful gift by the Sioux Falls Chapter came at a critical time to preserve and protect this unique and sacred South Dakota Great Place for all generations,” says Dick Brown, development director for the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation. “The Izaak Walton League stepped forward as a key partner and leader to make the dream and vision of the Good Earth State Park at Blood Run become a reality. Thank you, thank you, Sioux Falls Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America.”

Blood Run’s legacy will be conserved for many generations to come, thanks to the Sioux Falls Chapter and other generous donors. In addition to protecting the archeological sites, the park management plan proposes many projects to help visitors enjoy the area, including a trail system, pedestrian bridges across the river, campgrounds, canoe access to the Big Sioux River, and access to cultural resources for Native Americans to conduct ceremonial activities. State agencies will conduct habitat and wildlife surveys as part of efforts to restore native prairie and other landscapes.