Mayor’s hike offers natural wonders, history

ALGONA – Nestled along the East Fork of the Des Moines River near Algona is an area of trees, grass, ponds and wildlife that’s rarely seen by most area residents.

Wildhaven Campus, as those 240 acres are called, was the setting of an Algona Founders’ Day event Friday afternoon that gave about 40 people a look at the natural wonders of the area and a quick local history lesson.

The hike and history lesson were led by Algona Mayor Lynn Kueck. The concept of the event, he said, emerged from two things: his own explorations on foot and a desire to help people stay healthy by walking more.

“Let’s get people out walking and trying to be as healthy as possible,” he said before the hike.

Wildhaven Campus, located off Tietz Street on Algona’s southwest side, is owned by the Donald R. Tietz Charitable Foundation. Don Tietz bought the property, which was a farm and an abandoned gravel pit, in the mid-1960s.

Tietz said Friday that the site is home to deer, wild turkey and a nest of bald eagles. None of those animals made an appearance as the group hiked through part of the property, but Tietz and a visitor spotted a white tail deer doe and two fawns before the hike began.

“This was my vision from the beginning,” Tietz said as he drove an off-highway vehicle through the campus early Friday afternoon.

Beany Bode, a science teacher at Bishop Garrigan High School in Algona, hiked through the campus with his family. He said Tietz allows his classes and those from Algona Senior High School to use the area. Bode said an entire ecology class can be taught there. Among other things, his students have tested the water for nitrates and phosphates.

At a stop during the hike, a Native American tipi served as a backdrop while Kueck explained how the name of the Des Moines River evolved from a word in the Sioux language to the French phrase La Rivere des Moines to today’s modern English name.

The mayor’s history lesson continued after the hike ended and the group gathered in a building nicknamed the Ranger Station.

There, Kueck said the state’s name came from the Ayoua, a Native American tribe that lived in Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

Kossuth County, he said, is named after Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian freedom fighter who came to the United States and launched a series of speaking engagements. By the time the county was named, Kossuth was better known for his speeches than anything he did in Hungary, according to Kueck.

The county is twice the size of most Iowa counties. That’s because today’s county is made of two former counties, Kueck said. The northern half of today’s Kossuth County was once Bankroft County, he said. Kueck said Asa Call, one of the brothers who established Algona, convinced the state Legislature that Bankroft County wasn’t needed because the area was nothing but wetlands.

Algona was originally named Call’s Grove, according to Kueck. He said Asa Call’s wife, Sarah, suggested renaming it Algoma, which eventually became Algona.

The hike with the mayor at Wildhaven Campus will be repeated at 10 a.m. today, weather permitting.