Walker credits the $210,000 acquisition to all of the donors who stepped up to the plate when asked.
The expansion project came about in the fall of 2006, when a land management company (Stalcup Land Management of Storm Lake) contacted Walker to see if the county would be interested in the land. The land was owned by Evelyn Willis, widow of Charles Martin. When she decided to sell her land she wanted the park to have the first option on it.
"It came out of the blue," said Walker referring to the offer.
"We had a five- year plan to try to incorporate some of the land but this offer kind of fell into our laps" added Walker.
Walker's next step was to go to the county supervisors where she got a lot of positive feedback. Then the Cherokee County Conservation Board (CCCB) contacted the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF). The INHF is basically an organization set up to help to preserve land. In August of 2007 the CCCB signed a five-year agreement that the INHF would buy the land from the property owner and hold it while the CCCB raised funds to be paid back to the INHF.
At that point in time, Walker and the CCCB got to work on the fundraising. First they applied for a Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant but did not qualify. In Walker's opinion their initial presentation did not show much community involvement and may have led to a decision that did not go in the favor of the CCCB.
"We have never done fundraising on this type of scale" said Walker. "We were a little disappointed that we didn't receive the REAP grant but we kept a positive attitude. I thought this was an opportunity for a community project, to get the community involved and it would give a sense of pride for the community," added Walker.
In the Fall of 2007 the CCCB started to get the word out about raising money for the project. The community answered enthusiastically by having most of the funds raised for the land purchase by December or January.
There were 72 donors altogether including many organizations and individual donors. Plus the CCCB did receive a grant from the Legacy Foundation and a grant from Pioneer Hi-Bred International. "The Community really rose up and helped out" said Walker. "Over the past year, we really developed a special relationship with Pheasants Forever, they were our biggest supporters for this project" commented Walker. Walker also added that at some point in the future, there will be plaques made for all the donors.
It should be noted that INHF had yet to make its second payment on the purchase when the full amount of the funds needed to pay for the land was delivered to the INHF by the CCCB.
Now that the CCCB is armed with community support, the next phase of the Martin's Access project can begin. The CCCB is not out of the woods yet. The purchasing phase is now complete and now it time for the development phase to begin and funds are still needed. Estimated cost for development for the new section is $160,000, which includes a roadway, trails, modern restrooms, new campsites (both primitive and electric) and a few cabins to start with.
The CCCB had fenced off the perimeter of the new addition and recently connected it to the existing grounds. It is now open to the public.
There will be a groundbreaking ceremony tentatively scheduled for September at the new site. It's Walker's hope that at that time she can not only have the community come to the ceremony but several of the area schools to also participate.
The first thing that Walker would like to see built on the new site is modern restroom and showers. Currently roof replacement work on the shelter areas in the park are being completed and a major landscaping project is underway. Erosion near the horse corral area has promoted the CCCB to place riprap barrier along the east bank of the Little Sioux River to prevent any more land from being washed away.
"You can't imagine how grateful we are to everyone, the Board is so appreciative" conveyed Walker.