New Leader For Iowa's Whiterock Conservancy

Iowa Farm Scene

Conrad Kramer will manage this land trust, which was once the famous Garst Farm at Coon Rapids.

Published on: June 3, 2013

Whiterock Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust recently formed to steward seven square miles of Iowa conservation lands, on May 24 announced the hiring of Conrad Kramer as executive director. Kramer moves to Iowa after heading major land trusts in California and Idaho. Whiterock Conservancy is located about 70 miles northwest of Des Moines.

Whiterock Conservancy is made up of what was formerly known as the Garst Farm at Coon Rapids in western Iowa, the famous place of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's visit in 1959 at the height of the Cold War. Khrushchev visited the farm to learn about hybrid corn and how he could improve agricultural productivity in the Soviet Union. The Garst Farm also has many other significant connections to Iowa's agricultural history. Roswell Garst, the farmer and Garst family patriarch, who hosted Khrushchev and became friends with the Soviet leader, was instrumental in the development of the seed corn industry. Roswell was a friend of Henry A. Wallace, who was editor of Wallaces Farmer and founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Company.

GARST LEGACY: Whiterock Conservancy is the proud and honored steward of the Roswell & Elizabeth Garst Farmstead Historic District. At the Garst Farm innovations in use of fertilizers, hybrid seed corn, feed systems and livestock innovation took place over the span of nearly 70 years. In 1959, the Garst farm and community of Coon Rapids was thrust into the spotlight when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited for a day, forever changing the face of Russian-American interactions and putting citizen diplomacy in the forefront of the ever-intensifying Cold War.
GARST LEGACY: Whiterock Conservancy is the proud and honored steward of the Roswell & Elizabeth Garst Farmstead Historic District. At the Garst Farm innovations in use of fertilizers, hybrid seed corn, feed systems and livestock innovation took place over the span of nearly 70 years. In 1959, the Garst farm and community of Coon Rapids was thrust into the spotlight when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited for a day, forever changing the face of Russian-American interactions and putting citizen diplomacy in the forefront of the ever-intensifying Cold War.

Mark Ackleson, who represents the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation on the Whiterock board of directors, says, "Conrad Kramer rose to the top during a nationwide search. He clearly has the experience to lead our young nonprofit in achieving its mission of environmental restoration, sustainable agriculture, and public engagement with the land."

Whiterock Conservancy encompasses 5,000 acres of Raccoon River watershed

Whiterock Conservancy stewards nearly 5,000 acres of the Raccoon River watershed near Coon Rapids. These lands lie upriver to Springbrook State Park, Lake Panorama, Des Moines, and, ultimately, the Mississippi River. The donation of these landholdings to the nonprofit Whiterock, by the Garst family of Coon Rapids, Iowa, represents the largest private land gift recorded to date in Iowa. The Conservancy achieved its nonprofit status in December 2006.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

The diverse Whiterock landscape contains timbered hills, river-side bluffs, rolling pastures, wetlands, ponds, as well as some crop fields. Kramer will oversee sustainable cropping and grazing on Whiterock's working lands, as well as extensive oak savanna and prairie restoration efforts throughout the vast property.

Kramer will also further develop Whiterock's nonprofit mission of encouraging public engagement with the landscape via a variety of options that highlight the unique place-based characteristics of the Middle Raccoon River Valley. Points of engagement include the historic Garst farm, visited by Khrushchev in 1959, and some of the best star-gazing in the state. Nearby Coon Rapids hosts not just the state's best burger (a local restaurant was named the winner in 2012 in a statewide contest sponsored by the Iowa Beef Industry Council), but also a growing rural arts movement.

It's nonprofit organization with the mission of encouraging people to enjoy and take care of Iowa's great outdoor resources

Whiterock offers camping, lodgings (at the Garst farmhouse or various cottages), a canoe service, and event hosting at its visitor center or a prohibition-era dance barn. Reservations can be made online.

Meanwhile, a growing number of volunteers assist with prairie and timber burns, plant and bird identification, property clean-ups, and control of invasive species. Many other people come just to picnic and fish, to use the 10-miles of hard-surface trails that join Whiterock to Coon Rapids, or to wander the dirt paths that extend miles into a wild landscape. There is a trail-use fee for horses, but hikers and mountain-bikers are currently free to roam.

Kramer's biggest initial project will be developing an entire new internal $2 million trail network, designed and engineered according to the state-of-the-art sustainable standards. his "soft" dirt trail network will wind a full 30 miles throughout the vast property, providing one of Iowa's best equestrian and mountain-biking experiences. As soon as fundraising for the project is completed, construction will begin.

Kramer brings to the table extensive nonprofit leadership and conservation experience:

* He comes to Iowa from the Mojave Desert of Southern California where he led the Anza-Borrego Foundation. That nonprofit supports the conservation, recreation, and public-education mission of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the second-largest state park in the nation at 1,000 square miles.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

* Previously, Kramer served as executive director of the Teton Regional Land Trust located just west of Grand Teton National Park. That nonprofit works to conserve critical wildlife habitat, prime agricultural lands, and important open spaces within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

* Conrad started his career in Indiana where he worked as a nonprofit executive director in social services, and spent two years as professional advocate for sustainable land-use in Indiana. Kramer also founded and spent a decade leading a nonprofit that reforested private lands in Northern Indiana.

In 1985 Kramer earned a BS degree from Indiana University in Public Affairs, with concentrations in Environmental Policy and Public Administration. He spent his early childhood in Latin America where his father served as a diplomat, and spent his youth living in and exploring the forests and mountains of New Hampshire. Kramer is coming to Iowa with his wife Lisa Gonzales-Kramer and their two sons, Erik and Leif, who are 18 and 15, respectively.

Says Kramer, "Although we enjoyed our adventures out west, my wife and I are happy to be returning to the Midwest, especially with the educational opportunities this region offers for our kids. Professionally, I am inspired by Whiterock's unique mission and attributes, and its huge potential for both restoration and recreation."

Ken Herring, president of the Whiterock Board, says, "Whiterock is an unusual land trust in seeking to move beyond land stewardship to also directly engaging the public with the landscape. We are pleased to have found a uniquely-qualified conservation leader." Kramer will be welcomed to Iowa with a public reception in Coon Rapids (June 12). Details of the event can be found at the Whiterock Conservancy website.