County Conservation to acquire Inn, Brooks properties

Sunday, March 10, 2019
The Dickinson County Conservation Board previously partnered with Brooks National Golf Club to keep its Audubon certification through bird counts performed during monthly "Birding on the Green" programs each summer. The Conservation Foundation of Dickinson County on Friday acquired the golf course thanks to a $3 million anonymous donation.
File photo

OKOBOJI The Dickinson County Conservation Board is on the verge of expanding its footprint in the Iowa Great Lakes through a pair of property acquisitions.

The conservation board on Friday confirmed a $3 million donation to the Conservation Foundation of Dickinson County for the purchase of Brooks National Golf Club's 230 acres. The purchase includes the course, pro shop, restaurant and maintenance facilities.

"It's very generous and we're very excited that is it being gifted," Dickinson County Conservation Board director Lee Sorenson said.

The sides are still finalizing contract details for a similar, but separate, donation as well. The nonprofit Sherwood Foundation and Dickinson County Conservation Board confirmed plans for the county to receive more than 70 acres once held by owners of The Inn Resort and Conference Center.

INN RESORT PROPERTY

The Omaha-based Sherwood Foundation on Jan. 4 purchased five parcels of land at the former site of The Inn Resort and Conference Center in Okoboji. The foundation paid $1.75 million for the parcels, which are on the north side of Lakeshore Drive in Okoboji, where the par-3, nine-hole golf course used to be.

"We've been in discussion to accept that donation as well," Sorenson said. "But nothing has been signed or confirmed we understand it's coming our way."

Developers Whitecap LLC tore down the 121-year-old Inn Resort and Conference Center. New owners plan to establish residential lots and sell the lots to the public. As part of the deal, Whitecap worked with the city of Okoboji to use approximately 70 acres of land, including the resort's golf course, as a large-scale public park at no cost to the city.

"This is before we got involved," Sorenson said. "They were trying to make a deal with the city of Okoboji. Since that did not work, they actually approached us to take over the management of (the park portion of) The Inn property. There is a plan that has been developed through a landscaping firm for development on that land for recreational uses."

The Sherwood Foundation has also established an endowment to offset the conservation board's cost of managing the land.

"We sat down almost two years ago when we started working on the Pollinator addition and kind of dreamed our dream on what could be possible in this area with the Nature Center," Sorenson said. "Those areas were on our radar. Did we expect it to happen in two years? Absolutely not. We were thinking longterm maybe 20 years down the line. So it has just been incredible that everything seemed to fall into place in a quick amount of time."

BROOKS NATIONAL GOLF CLUB

Sorenson said Brooks National Golf Club will remain in operation as a golf course during the 2019 season. The conservation board will use the summer to determine future uses for the property.

"We're going to look at our plans and see if the golf course is going to remain or not," Sorenson said. "We're going to do our due diligence to see what works for us."

The conservation board director said the Brooks property went up for sale about one month ago. The conservation board looked into acquiring a portion of the property at that time.

The Brooks Golf Course donation agreement includes a "conservation easement" on the land "to protect it from development in perpetuity." Dickinson County Conservation Board members will work with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation on the easement over the course of 2019.

The conservation board said it will use public comments and surveys to make sure the land is being used in the best way possible for residents and visitors "as well as for the conservation and preservation of wildlife, water quality and the environment in general."

"We are very grateful that we have been entrusted as the owner of Brooks Golf Club; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conserve and protect a vital part of Okoboji," Sorenson said. "We feel it is the perfect fit since it connects directly to Kenue Park and the nature center."

Nature Center officials said the golf course land is imperative to water quality because of its location near East Lake Okoboji. The Dickinson County Conservation Board also credited greenskeepers at Brooks for using safe conservation practices on the course to keep it environmentally friendly.

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