- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - By this time next year, the boyhood home of farmed naturalist Aldo Leopold on Clay Street in Burlington could be a center of educational activity.

Aldo Leopold Heritage Group members Dave Riley, Steve Brower and Jerry Rigdon are looking to buy the house through a new nonprofit organization called Leopold Landscape Alliance. The paperwork is still going through on the 501 (c) (3) status, but the founders are anxious to start raising money for the project right away.

“This will give us more national recognition and will increase our ability to attract funds,” Brower told The Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/1rDv5E9 ).

Riley said the group would like to partner with other national conservation organizations to turn the house into a national tourist attraction.

“We’ve relied on individual contributions thus far, and we want to attract funds from organizations on a broader scale,” Riley said.

The three conservationists said the project wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of Mary Shier, who has owned the house for more than 20 years. They need to raise about $230,000 to buy it from her, which is about $100,000 less than her initial asking price a couple of years ago.

“She had a cash buyer who was looking at it, but she decided she would rather sell to use if we could find a use for it,” Brower said.

Though the nonprofit was organized primarily to handle the purchase of the house, Rigdon said it will evolve beyond that, managing the activities that take place inside the house. He stressed the property will be more than a museum. It will be a center for workshop activities that educate children and young people about Leopold’s significance in the conservation movement.

“We formed this group around the idea of celebrating Leopold in his birth city while advancing his philosophy,” Rigdon said.

Leopold, who was born in 1887 in Burlington, was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation. His essays on nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement, and he was founder of the science of wildlife management.

Though Aldo Leopold is a nationally recognized figure now, that wasn’t always the case. His work only recently hit the spotlight, thanks in part to a U.S. Forest Service documentary detailing his life and growing renowned for his seminal book, “A Sand County Almanac.”

“We could use it (the house) as a historic site for interpretation of Leopold and his land ethic,” Brower said. “We’ve had a lot of visitors from outside Burlington who have come and looked over this idea, and they thought it was a good time to make it happen. In addition, we could use the house as a guest facility for researchers and artists - people who are working on Leopold projects.”

Leopold lived in the house at 111 Clay St. from its completion in 1889 until the 1900 death of his grandfather, when, according to Curt Meine’s biography, the Leopolds moved back into the Starker house next door.

But the house remained in the family until after the death of Frederic Leopold, Aldo’s brother, in 1989. It was where Fred, youngest of the Leopold children, would practice his own, local efforts as a naturalist.

“Because Aldo was such an influential history figure in conservation,” Meine wrote, “we sometimes forget that Fred and so many others in the family were every bit as much a part of the family legacy in Burlington.”

Mary Shier purchased the house in 1989, and Brower credited her for the renovation work and landscaping since then. The house features three fireplaces, but a pair of furnaces and heated wood floors make it feel cozy on a cold day.

“Mary did a great job of taking care of the place, and rebuilt the front porch and took care of the wildflower garden,” Brower said.

Though the Leopold Landscape Alliance won’t be official for a few more months, those who wish to donate can do so right away. Donations can be sent to the Des Moines County Conservation Office, 13700 West Burlington, Iowa 52655. Those with questions can call Riley at (319) 759-8724.

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Information from: The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com

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