Neff Wetlands to be given to county conservation board
For years now, Jefferson County residents have been enjoying Neff Wetlands as part of the Fairfield Loop Trail, but recently longtime Fairfield residents Dave Neff and Sheri Blough Neff decided to ensure that those lands are enjoyed perpetually.
“Our family feels that this is a gift to the county and our community that can be enjoyed for generations to come,” Dave Neff said of 36 acres of wetlands that Neff Family Properties Inc. recently donated to the Jefferson County Conservation Board.
The wetlands will be dedicated to the Jefferson County Conservation Board May 13.
“We really wanted to have local control on it through the Jefferson County Conservation Board and wanted them to be the entity primarily responsible for [the wetlands],” Neff said, adding that the donation passed through the hands of the Iowa National Heritage Foundation, which is a statewide nonprofit conservation organization that works with private landowners and public agencies to protect and restore Iowa’s land, water and wildlife.
“In 1981, I was chairman of the [Fairfield] Park and Rec Board for 15 years. During that time the park and rec department owned a piece of property called Lamson Woods and we wanted to make it a permanent piece.
“We were able to work with Gov. Robert Ray to make it a state preserve. That way, it can’t be sold and it’s there in perpetuity… I think of the great author Will Rogers who said ‘God makes only so much property, if you don’t protect it, it’s going to be gone.’”
Naturalist with Jefferson County Conservation Therese Cummiskey said although Jefferson County residents have always had access to the wetlands via the loop trail, the idea that it was donated to the county conservation board to be available to everyone in perpetuity is exciting.
“This will be ours to manage,” Cummiskey said. “I’m really ecstatic about this… the idea of having a easily accessible wetland is exciting. We have Cedar Creek Wetlands that we also manage, but to get down there is quite a hike. I read somewhere that over 100 species of birds have been counted there — that’s what wetlands do, they bring in wildlife, and as a naturalist I’m really excited about that.”
Cummiskey said she was impressed with the Neff’s decision to donate the land.
“I thought that it was very philanthropic of them,” she said.
The Neff family has owned the land for nearly 30 years.
“We purchased our property on Glasgow Road with a house, a pond and six acres 32 years ago,” Neff said, adding that 29 years ago, they also acquired the wetlands and the upland area, which all totaled to 70 acres of contiguous property.
“It was actually being farmed — even the wetland area,” he said. “When we first started negotiating with the Iowa Department of Transportation, soybeans were growing up in around an inch of water that tadpoles were swimming around it.”
Neff said at the time George Davis (now deceased), of Davis and Palmer Real Estate told him about a program called Wetland Mitigation.
“This is where the Iowa Department of Transportation was improving their highways going from two lane to four lanes,” Neff said, explaining that any acres of wetlands that were used to expand the highways, would need to be replaced by two acres within the same or a contiguous county.
“So within two years of us buying what was farmland, there was a mitigation opportunity from Keokuk County, which is north and west of Fairfield,” he said. “No one had a wetland mitigation plan in Keokuk County, so we were able within a year to implement that program. The Iowa Department of Transportation [paid] for all of the earth and groundwork to build a water retention system to hold water in a certain area. That is now the trail that goes through the wetland; they build the trail and put the gravel in place. That was right at the same time, during the earlier stages of the loop trail.”
“The loop trail goes right through the center of Neff Wetlands,” Cummiskey said. “I’ll be taking summer campers out there for birding and wetland studies.”
Abby Hade Terpstra, a development specialist with the Natural Heritage Foundation had this to say: “Dave and Sheri both have such a deep sense of philanthropy and care for their community. Their idea of having this open to the public for perpetuity, I think is a fantastic idea for Fairfield.”